This statement has been prepared by LINK’s Deer Group.
We welcome the Scottish Government response to the independent Deer Working Group report. We support all 99 recommendations set out in this document. We encourage the development of a new Deer Act in the next session of the Scottish Parliament to implement about half of recommendations, and the remainder can be implemented now by NatureScot and other stakeholders.
In the absence of natural predators, deer populations have to be managed in a humane way and by humans to control their numbers and reduce public impacts. The population of deer in Scotland is now estimated to be over one million animals and still increasing. This process is about reducing deer populations to sustainable levels and not eliminating deer, which we also value as an important part of the natural heritage.
We will simply not meet Scottish Government priorities of restoring peatlands, and increasing woodland cover through tree planting and natural woodland regeneration, unless deer populations are better managed and reduced to sustainable levels (research advises less than 5 animals per sq km). These habitats are our vital carbon stores important for addressing both climate and nature emergencies. Human impacts from high deer populations such as road traffic accidents and the prevalence of Lyme disease are also increasing and must be addressed.
The current largely voluntary approach to deer management is not working. We need effective and modern systems to manage deer populations in the public interest, focussed on addressing deer impacts, and covering the whole of Scotland.
We need more deer managers not less. Enhanced deer management will create jobs in rural communities.
The urgency of the direction of travel needed is now self-evident. There have been decades of public tensions around deer management in Scotland, and the changes required will be challenging. They will need public investment in both NatureScot support systems and in deer stalking effort. Bringing people together to make these changes happen in ways that respect all aspects of this long running issue will be an important part of the transition now needed.
LINK Deer Group
Photo credit: Sandra Graham