New report urges action on deer management in Scotland’s rainforest

04 Jul 2023

Rising deer numbers are one of the biggest threats to the survival and expansion of Scotland’s globally important temperate rainforest, according to a new report.

Saving Scotland’s rainforest: managing the impact of deer highlights that although deer are a natural part of the rainforest’s ecosystem, they also represent a significant barrier to its restoration if not managed properly.

The report has been published by Scottish Environment LINK, the forum for Scotland’s voluntary environment community on behalf of its Deer Working Group, and commissioned by the Woodland Trust Scotland.

Scotland’s rainforest is found along the west coast of Scotland and is a globally rare habitat, part of sites classed as temperate rainforest. Woodland once covered large areas of the west coast, but much of this has been lost over the last two millennia – now covering just 4.8%. Factors that have contributed to rainforest decline and fragmentation include mismanagement, overgrazing by both sheep and deer and suppression of woodland by invasive non-native species

Deer numbers are at historic highs in Scotland – and while the Scottish government has devoted funding for deer management, much of this has been for deer fencing, an approach that is both expensive and often ultimately ineffective in the current way that fencing is implemented on the ground.

The report lays out the challenge at hand: to reduce deer’s negative impact on the rainforest while also retaining their key role as a natural part of its ecosystem. In order to do this, it recommends a number of measures are taken as a matter of urgency, which include:

  • Long-term support for deer management to be rolled out across the landscape, along with the eradication of Rhododendron ponticum, the other main threat to the survival of Scotland’s rainforest.
  • Developing a community approach to deer stalking and management, including the establishment of more community larders, the training of community members to participate in deer culling and venison handling and much more focus placed on the management of roe and sika deer. Traditionally, deer stalking has mostly focused on red deer. The report also encourages the promotion of rainforest employment opportunities to schoolchildren and the marketing of rainforest venison to restaurants and hospitality businesses.
  • Support for new technologies such as drone and thermal surveying in order to better estimate current deer numbers.
  • New funding streams, including a Scotland’s Rainforest Restoration Fund.
  • Leadership from Scottish Government agencies in ensuring that rainforest deer do not hinder the delivery of the ecosystem services that a healthy rainforest can deliver. Landowning environmental NGOs are also encouraged to demonstrate best practice in deer management, and ultimately reduce the impacts of climate change, restore biodiversity and ensure a future for fragile human communities in the rainforest.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Chair of Scottish Environment LINK’s Deer Group said:

“Scotland’s Rainforest has been rightly identified by the Scottish Government as one of the priority geographical areas of Scotland where deer numbers need to be reduced to sustainable population levels.

“In the coming years we need to see clear evidence of Rainforest regeneration and expansion, thereby also helping to tackle the nature and climate emergency.”   

Deborah Long, Scottish Environment LINK’s Chief Officer said:

“Sustainable deer management is one of the most impactful actions Scotland can take to tackle the nature and climate emergency. Scottish Environment LINK members have been working together for years to promote sustainable deer management and to illustrate the natural, social and economic benefits of reducing Scotland’s large deer population.

“This report on the management of deer in Scotland’s rainforest shows the way forward in effective deer management and, if the proposed recommendations are heeded, has the potential to make a very positive impact on the restoration and survival of one of Scotland’s most important ecosystems, as well as acting as a template for actions in other Scottish habitats.”

Read the report

Image: James Rainey

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