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The Role of Deer in Biodiversity Reconsidered

Photo Credit: Ray Bilcliff

The future of deer management in Scotland is changing to focus more on the biodiversity which surrounds the animals in their environment.

This means concentrating on the impact their trampling and diets have on tree-planting, woodland regeneration and overgrazing.

Stuart Younie, CEO of Mountaineering Scotland, said: “We are encouraged by the Scottish Government’s intention to adopt almost all of the independent Deer Working Group’s recommendations and hope that whichever party wins in May they will also honour that commitment.

“Action on deer management is long overdue if we are to restore our natural habitats to promote biodiversity and help tackle climate change. In doing so, however, we need to understand the wider impact of these changes, and support local communities, landowners and deer managers to adapt to new practices in land and deer management.”

Changes in the approach of deer management come after a recent report from the independent Deer Working Group (Deer Working Group) indicated deer play a large part in the natural solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

Their goal is to naturally incorporate reducing carbon emissions and enhance biodiversity in Scotland.

Going into the next parliamentary term, the Scottish Government accepted ‘in full or in principle’ 91 of the 99 recommendations made by the DWG.

However, whilst the Scottish Land Estates welcomes the governments progress in tackling deer numbers, they still have concerns over the relaxation of some rules.

Karen Ramoo, Policy Adviser (Forestry, Conservation & Wildlife Management) at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “We also have concerns about the removal of a close season for males which has been accepted by government. This will allow male deer to be culled all year round, exposing them to culling disturbance at particularly sensitive times of the year – namely later winter months when post rut male deer are likely to be depleted in condition with little reserves.

“It is correctly acknowledged that a blanket limit on deer density in Scotland is not the right approach but the government’s response does accept the Deer Working Group figure of 10/sq km as a general upper limit. In recent years, the red deer population had already dropped considerably below this level with around 22% of the population culled annually. Our view, which has been shared by NatureScot, is that grazing impacts should be the key consideration of the need to manage local populations and that this must be considered with the grazing impacts of other herbivores present.

“The normalisation of night shooting subject to trials – which carries welfare concerns and risks relegating deer to pest status – also presents significant misgivings. Safety is of paramount importance and we see risks attached to the welfare of deer and other species as well as those present during the stalking. This feels disproportionate at a time when deer management is already being performed satisfactorily.

“Estates who are heavily involved in responsible and effective deer management are also the ones at the forefront of peatland restoration, woodland creation and other positive biodiversity schemes. We should not lose sight of that and a balance can be struck between responding to climate change targets and valuing Scotland iconic deer population.”

Although the government feel that these steps are ‘necessary’ when it comes to Scotland’s part in tackling climate change.

Rural Affairs and Natural Environment Minister Ben Macpherson said: “As the scale of tackling climate change and the biodiversity crisis increases, and the measures needed to address these challenges become ever more necessary, it is evident that a significant stepping-up of deer management efforts is required.”

A spokesperson for Mountaineering Scotland added: “This discussion on deer density and environmental impacts is set to continue as sheep, hares and voles also need to be taken into account when it comes to the impacts of browsing on the natural environment.”

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