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Protecting and enhancing nature and improving animal welfare are the key aims of proposed changes to deer management legislation, says the Scottish Government.
It is estimated there are around a million wild deer in Scotland – up from around half that in 1990.
“This extremely high population means that management is required to protect and restore important habitats, particularly woodland and peatland,” said biodiversity minister Lorna Slater today.
In 2023 the Scottish Parliament passed legislative changes to give authorised land managers more powers to help control the deer population including extending the period for culling male deer; allowing the use of non-lead ammunition and permitting the use of ‘night sights’ to cull deer at night.
Building on this, the government is now seeking views on a range of further proposals to improve the current system of deer management. These include:
Granting NatureScot additional powers to facilitate deer management for the purposes of enhancing the natural environment;
Changes to improve the welfare of wild deer when undertaking deer management;
Removing barriers for venison dealers to help expand their markets and get more venison into the food supply chain.
Ms Slater said: “Improving our natural environment and tackling the climate crisis through tree-planting, woodland regeneration and peatland restoration would not be possible without effective deer management.
“We need to get the right balance of wild deer in the right areas to maximise the environmental benefits they can bring as part of a healthy, functioning ecosystem.
“The benefits of carefully managed wild deer populations are not just environmental. Deer provide important employment and social opportunities to our rural communities and they form an iconic part of Scotland’s landscape. This consultation is an opportunity for people across Scotland to have their say on further proposals to improve the management of deer populations and to help shape future legislation.”
In response, BASC Scotland director Peter Clark said: “We welcome the opportunity to respond to the consultation, ahead of the introduction of significant primary legislation which will ultimately shape deer management in Scotland for decades to come.
“The consultation proposes changes to the close seasons for female deer, changes to the use of shotguns for culling deer and the removal of the licensing scheme for venison dealers.
“The proposals relating to Deer Management Nature Restoration Orders raise significant concerns, given it would allow NatureScot to enter land under legally enforceable direction to undertake deer management activities where it deems necessary.
“BASC wants to see a community-integrated deer management approach, as there are numerous proficient and skilled deer stalkers who are vital to overseeing deer populations on publicly-owned land, offering a community-based alternative to costly public contracts.
“BASC will respond to the consultation robustly – expressing our concerns, priorities and evidence, and in due course will be issuing members with further information.”
The consultation builds on previous legislative changes made in 2023 and recommendations made by the Deer Working Group in their 2020 report The Management of Wild Deer in Scotland.
The consultation will run from today (Friday) for 12 weeks, closing on Friday, March 29.
The proposals aim to ensure legislation is fit for purpose in the context of the biodiversity and climate crises, alongside a small number of proposals concerned with farmed and kept deer.
They are based around six themes: Enhancing the Natural Environment; Compliance; Wild deer Welfare; Changes to close seasons; Venison; and Kept and Farmed Deer.
Key changes included in the Scottish Government’s plans would establish greater powers for NatureScot through the creation of Deer Management Nature Restoration Orders, which would allow NatureScot to enter land under legally enforceable direction to undertake deer management activities where it sees fit.
Other proposals include a reduction to the close season for female deer, new restrictions around the use of shotguns for deer management, abolishing the licensing scheme for venison dealers and the ability to shoot stray farmed deer where appropriate.
Scottish Land & Estates’ wildlife management policy advisor Nadia Flaherty described much of the proposals as ‘welcome’, but had ‘significant concerns’ around the creation of NatureScot’s Deer Management Nature Restoration Orders.
“While there is much to be welcomed in the Scottish Government’s proposals to modernise deer management in Scotland, the proposed creation of Deer Management Nature Restoration Orders is a cause for significant concern.
“Grazing, browsing and erosion by deer do not occur in isolation and they are not the only barriers to restoring nature. It is unlikely that the imposition of these orders alone will deliver the outcomes desired by Scottish Ministers. A holistic, integrated approach is required which considers all ecosystem impacts.
“In addition, the criterion for imposing these orders is extremely vague and subjective. Given the potentially significant financial liabilities for landowners, it must be made crystal clear in what circumstances Ministers may seek to impose such an order. The subjectivity associated with this proposal in its current form leaves the door wide open to disproportionate and unreasonable decision-making.
“It is worth remembering that private landowners are already responsible for enabling some 80% of the deer management effort underway across Scotland. It is vital that any legislative change does not detract from that considerable and vital contribution.
“We look forward to engaging with Ministers and officials in the weeks and months ahead to ensure the modernisation of deer legislation is both proportionate and workable.”
The consultation on Managing Deer For Climate And Nature can be accessed here.
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