Trust strongly welcomes Holyrood report on deer management

The Trust, along with other environmental charities, has welcomed a new report on deer management from a key Scottish Parliament committee

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The Trust, along with other environmental charities, has welcomed a new report on deer management from a key Scottish Parliament committee which comes down firmly on the side of nature and woodland.

After taking written and verbal evidence from a  range of experts – including land managers, deer management groups, conservationists and scientific specialists – the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee (ECCLRC) of the Scottish Parliament  has just published its  Report on Deer Management in Scotland, which calls for a “greater focus and urgency” in addressing Scotland’s deer management challenges.

Deer impacts

It takes as its starting point that “deer densities in many places are too high to deliver the public interest” and that “deer impacts continue be a significant factor in preventing the achievement of positive outcomes for the planting and restoration of native woodlands.”

The report highlights the fact that “50 per cent of deer management groups failed to identify actions to deal with deer impacts in designated sites “and stresses that “habitats take a long time to recover and we do not have time to wait in delivering the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.”

Cull levels

It calls for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to determine the cull levels required in the public interest, and to have the power, as  “a matter of urgency” to compel  landowners to provide information about how many deer they plan to shoot the following year.

The report also suggests that the current close season for stags should now be reviewed “with the aim of ensuring the restrictions on shooting promote, rather than hinder, the effective management of deer for both ecological purposes and crop protection”.

The committee also expressed concern about the cost to the public purse of deer fencing – set to rise in the future as existing fencing deteriorates – and suggests that “SNH examines the full costs and benefits of different approaches to deer management based on the available information”.

The John Muir Trust has campaigned over a number of years for the type of changes now being proposed by a key committee of the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Parliament Committees have a much stronger role than their Westminster counterparts, and have the power to initiate legislation and to scrutinise and amend proposals from the Scottish Government. Because this report has the support of MSPs from all four parties represented on the ECCLRC (SNP, Conservative, Labour, Green Party) it is likely to command serious influence within the Scottish Government and the wider Scottish Parliament.

Strong support

Three nature conservation charities – the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), the RSPB and the John Muir Trust issued a statement fully endorsing the report.

Mike Daniels the Head of Land Management for the John Muir Trust said: “Unsustainable deer management has been a running sore within Scotland’s environment for decades. Our woodlands and peatlands deserve better.

“We are pleased that this cross-party committee has grasped the nettle on this issue and is asking for strong action from land managers and government regulators alike. We eagerly await the Scottish Government’s response.”

Dr Maggie Keegan, Head of Policy at the Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “Meeting Scotland’s biodiversity targets requires a step change in deer management.

“While some good progress has been made in recent years, half of Scotland’s Deer Management Groups are still failing to outline how they will prevent damage to designated sites including woodlands and peatlands. These habitats take years to recover and the longer we wait to act, the greater the cost of restoring them.

“This report represents one of the closest examinations of deer management in Scotland ever carried out. The Scottish Government should pay close attention to its findings.”

Read the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee (ECCLRC) of the Scottish Parliament's  Report on Deer Management in Scotland.