Dave Windle

The major news is that the Deer Working Group has delivered its report, which is discussed later. Before this was published, SNH delivered an update on progress being made in deer management:

They claim significant progress but note that delivery of tangible benefits will take longer to emerge. Three of the five Scottish Biodiversity Strategy targets will be delayed beyond the agreed date of 2020. The native woodland condition and restoration targets show insufficient progress and should be a priority for future focus.

The report manages to merge the efforts of forward thinking estates such as Glen Feshie and Mar Lodge with reluctant landowners such as Invercauld allowing completely unsustainable deer numbers on some parts of the estate to make the guilty look less bad. The excessive deer numbers on the Caenlochan National Nature reserve (no doubt, you will all have seen this) get their own special mention in the Deer Working Group report.

In other words, despite the significant progress, native woodland condition needs priority action. A contradiction? It is a classic example of SNH vainly trying to find compromise and progress via collaboration, while the landowners ignore them.

Responding to this report, Scottish Environment Link has produced its own version of the story. This report argues that the existing voluntary system where private landowners cull to the levels that they think appropriate has failed and that Government regulation is needed. Reducing the deer population will

It advocates opening up community access to stalking as has been introduced in Harris, which potentially could be a gamechanger. If the shooting fraternity can't shoot enough deer, then let the locals help out.

Sticking to chronological order, we now get to the Deer Working Group's report.

At 373 pages, it is a large document and not for the faint-hearted. It comprehensively reviews the existing status of deer management across Scotland and forms an excellent reference source. In summary, it finds that deer numbers are too high and are impeding regrowth of native woodland and other natural vegetation. No surprise here!

Current deer numbers are simply unsustainable. The excessive winter mortality figures show that the population size is unnatural and that deer welfare is suffering. Plans for adaptation to climate change are increasingly likely to involve an expansion of woodland cover. Deer fencing is not the solution as this denies them access to winter shelter. Deer numbers need to be brought down to levels that used to exist.

Interestingly, the report accuses the CNPA of timidity and inaction. If only, they had responded to our comments on their plans for deer management! In some parts of the park, there are deer densities of 15 — 20/km2, which compared with densities of 5 or less/km2 that are needed for tree regeneration is simply ridiculous. The excessively high densities are masked by using average densities across the park, which merges the excessively high numbers on parts of some estates, e.g. Caenlochan, mostly on Invercauld but affected by neighbouring estates, by progress being made on Mar Lodge Estate, Abernethy and Glen Feshie. I hope that the CNPA takes this criticism as a spur to get its act together. See comments on Daily Record and P&J.

The recommendations contained in the LINK report are expanded and endorsed (not to imply that LINK thought of them first!). In addition, the recommendations that caught my eye are listed below:

Clearly, SNH needs to up its game. It was publicly castigated two years ago and gets a pretty poor press in this report. It seems to have failed to realise that the world has moved on. Platitudes are no longer enough and collaboration has to be backed up by enforcement, where necessary. Deer numbers are too high. Landowners are unwilling to reduce the numbers. They need to be forced to.

If the Government chooses to adopt the report¡¦s recommendations, it will be a useful step forward. The recommendations on making culling easier, giving greater prominence to the role of wild deer in spreading Lyme disease and getting a clear picture of the total costs of deer damage are good common sense. I would like to have seen more determination in setting an upper limit on deer densities. We already know that 10/km2 is too high ¡V see previous issues of Mountain Views. However, it might be a good strategy to set a high upper limit to get the idea established, get experience in forcing landowners to increase their cull rates and then plan to reduce it in time.

I look forward to seeing the Government's response.

Predictably, there has been a howl of rage (Press and Journal, 30/1/20) from the SGA who are "complaining of being kicked from pillar to post and consider the report a hammer blow". However, instead of howling in rage, the SGA would be well advised to look in the mirror at its own performance in this matter. In the last fifty years, the population of red deer in Scotland has increased by 250%. This isn't sustainable and something needs to be done. If the SGA had really been stewarding the countryside, they would have seen this and campaigned for action by the landowners.

David Lintern gives us his views on the report on the WalkHighlands website

Finally, it is noted that removing the close season for stags could introduce a conflict between stalking and access to the land. In my experience, the vast majority of estates are helpful, and this shouldn't be a problem. A few rogue estates might try and use it as an excuse, but they can be brought into line by people power, as done at Glen Lyon at the end of the foot and mouth epidemic many years ago

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