A venison subsidy is a positive and unifying issue for deer management in Scotland

11 Apr 2024

Tom Turnbull is Chair of the Association of Deer Management Groups, Duncan Orr-Ewing is Convenor of Scottish Environment LINK’s Deer Group and Richard Cooke is Chair of Scottish Venison.  They are all members of the Common Ground Forum.

Scottish venison is bringing people from all sides of the deer debate together.  Of all the qualities that deer management brings to Scotland, be it quality tourism or the skilled craft of our deer stalkers, Scottish venison is right up there as one of the most valuable products to come from our hills and forests.  At a time when differences of opinion on deer management are coming to the surface once more, this seems a good moment to write jointly about an issue, and an opportunity, which we each passionately believe in. 

Venison is a healthy meat, low in fat, high in flavour and has featured in Scottish cuisine, both lofty and humble, for centuries.  Most of our venison comes from wild, rather than farmed, deer populations that have been part of our landscapes for millennia.  While it may have a reputation for being expensive in some quarters, it sits in roughly the same price bracket as Scotch beef and lamb.  In short, we have a great product that is distinctively Scottish and highly marketable.

The clear direction of government policy is that deer populations in Scotland need to be reduced to help enable nature’s recovery and mitigate climate change across more of our landscapes.  A greater amount of work will be needed to implement this, with increased costs.  Venison sales are often the only income to offset these costs, but current prices fall a long way short of reflecting the true value of this high-quality product.  Research has indicated that it does not even cover the costs of hunting, letalone bringing venison to the market. 

And it is here that we see a clear opportunity for Scotland.  We have written jointly to the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Islands to ask her to consider allocating a small proportion of the public funding for land management to a venison subsidy.  We argue that doing so will directly support the additional deer management needed to allow our woodlands and peatlands to regenerate, while helping at the same time to secure the basis of a sustainable venison market that Scotland can be proud of for years to come. 

The investment required is estimated at £3-5 million per year, a comparatively minor part of Scotland’s annual ~£650 million land management budget.  This will contribute to the costs of deer management in delivering a range of vital outcomes everyone will benefit from – for nature, climate change, jobs in deer management and allowing deer, one of our finest national assets, to shine.  For all these reasons, we hope that the government will also see this as too good an opportunity to miss.

The discussions that us led to identifying this opportunity and to jointly write to the Cabinet Secretary took place under the Common Ground Forum, an initiative that brings together all those in the Scottish deer sector interested in a more collaborative approach to deer management, based on mutual respect and consensus building, can contribute to a vision of a greener, healthier and economically vibrant future.

Tom Turnbull, Duncan Orr-Ewing and Richard Cooke

Image credit: Simon Jones

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