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Response on Deer Management Legislation


Scottish Environment Link Deer Task Force Response to which Cairngorms Campaign contributed and added its name as an active member of the task force.

Wildlife and Natural environment Bill; Consultation Response to Section 2-Deer

Q1A What is your view on the proposal that the right to take or kill deer should be balanced by a statutory responsibility on landowners to manage them sustainably?

We support the principle of sustainable deer management and the introduction of a legal obligation on landowners to manage deer sustainably. The definition of sustainable management should follow the five principles of sustainable management agreed by the Scottish Government in the UK Framework for Sustainable Development.

From a LINK perspective the definition of sustainable management should include requirements;

    To improve the condition of protected areas for nature conseravtion such as Natura 2000 sites and SSSIs (already a legal requirement).
    To assist with the adaptation to and mitigation of climate change (for example the protection of peatlands) incorporating actions from the Proposed Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2010.
    To enhance key native biodiversity and habitats outside protected areas for nature conservation (for example species rich grasslands, semi natural native woodlands and capercaillie).
    To protect wider countryside in terms of Natura 2000 outside protected areas for nature conservation (for example Annex 1 habitats such as blanket bog).
    To support and enhance the protection of ecosystem services (for example, natural tree regeneration and flood prevention)
    To support the protection and enhancement of natural landscapes.
    To encourage unrestricted responsible access for the public.

Q1B Is there a better way in which a landowner’s responsibility to manage deer might be framed?

Whilst the introduction of a statutory Code of Practice is a welcome improvement on current arrangements, we do not believe that this goes far enough. Instead, we support the principle of a statutory Deer Management Planning system, which recognises both public and private interests in deer management. This would ensure fair representation of relevant stakeholders as well as transparency and accountability in respect of deer management decisions. We question why deer are not being treated in a similar fashion to the management of other natural resources, for example water supplies through Water Framework Directive transposition  (as deer as res nullis are legally defined as a common property resource). We suggest that Deer Commission Scotland should investigate other successful models of statutory deer management planning to develop the best model for such an approach for wild deer in Scotland. We envisage that any statutory deer management planning system should be linked to Scottish Government rural development incentives through the Scottish Rural Development Plan.

Whatever model is adopted, it is important that it is flexible to accommodate new challenges, for example growing knowledge about climate change impacts and the required adaptation and mitigation programme. Ultimately, the effective grouping of land managers could help deliver a wide range of rural land use public and private benefits.

Q2 What is your view on whether collaborative deer management structures should continue to be voluntary in the first instance?

In our view an effective deer management planning system is a pre-requisite for the delivery of effective sustainable deer management. It is recognised and accepted that Deer Management Groups (DMGs), based originally on the voluntary approach, were not constituted to deliver such objectives and lack the required resources and expertise to do so. We do not recognise the collaborative element of existing deer management structures. Other than information exchange there appears to be very little collaboration at a practical level (for example, in collaborative culling, shared larder facilities, marketing of venison). More fundamentally, virtually all DMGs that LINK landowning bodies have engaged with, have failed to deliver adequate deer management planning or other tangible outputs. It is time for a radical overhaul of the DMG system and we advocate the introduction of statutory deer management planning coordinated by SEARS. Being part of the SEARS system would facilitate integration of deer management planning with other rural development objectives in both the public and private interest.

It should be noted that current voluntary deer management planning structures do not cover all of the deer range, with roe deer to the south of the Highland line very poorly covered. There are environmental issues associated with high roe deer populations, which require resolution, as well as those within the red deer range.

Q3 Do you consider that there is a need to ensure that there is wider (eg. community) engagement in deer management? If so how?

In most cases, the current voluntary system gives little recognition to local or wider parts of the public interest. It is important that local and wider public interests are recognised in any new deer management structures. We propose a system of statutory deer management planning, which (whilst noting that the Forestry Commission Scotland system is voluntary at present) would be open to local public consultation, in a similar way to Forestry Commission Scotland’s approach to woodland design planning for the public and private sectors. A web-based system, with alerts for people receiving notification about future deer management planning issues in their area, would facilitate public participation. For example, as well as private sporting interests, there is now a diversified rural economy involved with wildlife tourism, including deer watching, who could have a stake in deer management structures, if desired.

Q4 What is your view on the proposal that land managers should be required to prepare and implement a statutory Deer Management Plan where voluntary management structures are failing to deliver in the public interest?
We recommend a straightforward and immediate move towards a statutory system of Deer Management Planning supported by Scottish Government agencies and incentives.

The introduction of such a statutory backstop, as proposed here, is a welcome improvement, but does not, in our view, go far enough. It would not address the fundamental issue of a natural resource of wild deer continuing to be managed on a largely voluntary basis with inadequate regard for the public interest. 

Q5 What is your view on the proposal that failure to comply with a Statutory Deer Management Plan should be an offence, and that DCS should be able to recover costs from landowners or occupiers, where it has to take action to enforce the plan?

We support this principle, subject to further understanding of the safeguards to ensure that landowners, who might be trying their best to meet deer management planning obligations, are protected from cross boundary damage caused by landowners not complying with procedures or movement of deer beyond their control.

Q6 What is your view on the proposal that DCS’s existing powers to constitute Deer Panels should be extended to enable DCS to require the Deer Panel to prepare and implement a Deer Management Plan, where a particular deer management issue arises?

Our vision of sustainable deer management requires a much longer-term (standing) approach to delivery, such as a move to a statutory deer management planning system, to provide safeguards for natural heritage, landscape and access objectives in the public interest. Whilst we understand that such panels might be legislatively convenient, we believe that they are not fit for purpose.

Q7 What is your view on the proposal that DCS’s current powers to intervene in deer management should be extended to a wider range of circumstances (set out above) than is currently the case?

We support the maintenance of DCS powers to intervene on account of protecting the natural heritage. However, we support the extension of powers as outlined below. We further believe that interpretation of “natural heritage” should be broadened or made more explicit to include;

    Delivery of, adaptation to, and mitigation of, climate change (for example protection of peatlands) incorporating actions from the proposed Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2010.
    Protection and enhancement of designated sites for nature conservation and landscape.
    Enhancement of key habitats and biodiversity outside protected areas for nature conservation (for example species rich grasslands, semi-natural native woodlands and capercaillie)
    Protection for wider countryside Annex 1 habitats and species under Natura 2000.
    Protection and enhancement of ecosystem services (for example flood prevention and natural tree regeneration).
    Protection and enhancement of nationally important landscapes.
    Protection for unrestricted responsible access rights.

Q8-13 What is your view on the proposal that further action is required to improve the skills and competence in taking/killing deer?

This is not the particular remit of LINK, however in general we support high standards of ecological and sustainable land management allied to good practice in deer welfare. We support the introduction of measures to improve the skills base of those involved with deer management in understanding the ecological consequences of their individual and collective management actions. We believe that some basic ecological training should be built into the DMQ system.

Competence is also important in terms of public safety for those who take recreation in areas, which might be subject to deer management, and demonstration of high standards is essential in this regard. 

Q14 This is an animal welfare issue, beyond our remit, however as a general point, we support high standards.

Q15 What is your view on whether, consequential to effective local deer management structures being in place and a requirement for those who soot deer to demonstrate skills and knowledge, the national male Close Season could over time be removed?

We can see no animal welfare justification for a close season for male deer. We believe that with an effective statutory deer management planning system in place, there should be adequate safeguards in place to prevent over exploitation of male deer.

Removal of the male deer close season would allow for greater flexibility of deer management without the need for authorisation.

Q16 Do you have a view on whether, consequential to effective deer management planning structures being in place, and a requirement on those who shoot deer to demonstrate skills and knowledge, there could be flexibility to have male Close Seasons set at a local level?

We believe that a statutory system of deer management planning would make such local arrangements possible, although they would be difficult to police effectively. It is important that such arrangements are only permitted where there is an approved statutory deer management plan in place.

Q17-19 We have no comments as this is outside our remit.

Q20 Should cull return be provided by owners/occupiers or by individuals who are on the proposed register of competence?

We support a statutory system of cull returns. Accurate data on deer populations and culls is a fundamental principle of sustainable deer management. On balance, we feel that the onus should be put on DMGs to compile the full cull return for their area. This will ensure that the DMGs have full access to the local data required for sustainable deer management decisions, involvement in the system, and there would be greater transparency.  Once compiled and supplied to SEARS the data should be publicly available on the SEARS website.

This response was compiled by the LINK Deer Task Force and is supported by;

RSPB Scotland
National Trust for Scotland
John Muir Trust
Scottish Native Woodlands
Cairngorms Campaign
Scottish Wildlife Trust

Please contact Duncan Orr-Ewing, Convener LINK Deer Task Force on 0131 311 6500 for any further enquiries.

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