Action required now to address the impact of deer on Scotland’s environment

Leading environmental charity, the Scottish Wildlife Trust is backing new measures to strengthen deer management provisions under the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. The Trust believes that imminent action is necessary to sustain, protect and enhance Scotland’s biodiversity and ecosystems. Its support comes ahead of Parliament’s Stage 3 consideration of the Bill which takes place on Wednesday this week.

Due to the loss of native predators and lack of effective control, wild deer numbers are much higher in Scotland than they should be, and they continue to rise. Through overgrazing, bark stripping and trampling, deer can cause widespread damage to habitats such as peatlands and woodlands, which further impacts local biodiversity, flood risk and the ability of Scotland’s bogs to store carbon. In order to control wild deer populations, culling must keep pace with population expansion. However, current culling levels are falling far short of this to the extent that red deer numbers have tripled in the last 50 years demonstrating that the current voluntary approach to deer management is not working. 

Dr Maggie Keegan, Head of Policy at the Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “For too long, many areas of Scotland have been overrun by high deer numbers – in excess of that which a healthy natural environment can support. This has led to environmental degradation such as the suppression of native woodland expansion, peatlands becoming eroded and emitting rather than storing carbon, a lack of a natural treeline, denuded hillsides, trees clinging on in the most inaccessible places, a lack of montane scrub such as juniper, increased run off rate, decreased water quality and increased downstream flooding risk.

“At a time when Scotland should be doing everything it can to create resilient landscapes in the face of climate change, which have healthy ecosystems that help communities to thrive, there has been a reluctance to move away from the voluntary approach to deer management when all the evidence points to its failure.”

The Trust feels strongly that the amendments in the Bill regarding deer which were originally proposed by Mike Russell MSP and taken forward by the Scottish Government are a step in the right direction towards ensuring landowners and managers take more responsibility for deer that inhabit their land in order to strike the right balance between the public and private interest of deer stalking and shooting.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust is also calling for the Scottish Government to accept an amendment from Claudia Beamish MSP, regarding SNH’s role and the Deer Code of Practice, which would mean that SNH would be obliged to assess and report on whether or not the voluntary code is proving effective in protecting the public interest.

Keegan continued: “The clock is ticking on Scotland’s biodiversity; report after report has shown that the impacts of too many deer have dire consequences for Scotland’s natural capital. This Bill presents the Scottish Government with the chance to start taking the steps necessary to truly deliver sustainable deer management which means stabilising deer numbers at ecologically acceptable and maintainable levels.

Getting the balance right will mean that as a nation, we will move from thinking of wild deer as ‘the deer problem’ to celebrating wild deer and the important role they play in Scotland’s rural economy, providing us with healthy food, recreational opportunities and being integral to Scotland’s healthy ecosystems”.




  • The Scottish Wildlife Trust is Scotland’s leading nature conservation charity, representing nearly 40,000 members who care for wildlife and the environment.
  • The Scottish Wildlife Trust seeks to raise public awareness of threatened habitats and species and manages 120 reserves Scotland-wide.
  • The Scottish Wildlife Trust receives financial assistance and support from a range of organisations, funders and individuals including Scottish Natural Heritage and players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

For further information on the impacts of deer see the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s policy on Wild Deer 

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Leading environmental charity, the Scottish Wildlife Trust is backing new measures to strengthen deer management provisions under the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. The Trust believes that imminent action is necessary …

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