A group of environmental charities are supporting the call by an SNP member of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, Michael Russell MSP, for deer management in Scotland to be tightened up through the Land Reform Bill.
In some areas of Scotland, high deer numbers are causing damage to internationally important habitats, ancient woodlands and peat bogs. Under the current system, the management of deer numbers by landowners is mainly voluntary. The Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee believe this is not tackling the issue and have urged the Scottish Government to consider strengthening the approach to deer management.
With the backing of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB Scotland, Cairngorms Campaign, Ramblers Scotland, John Muir Trust and Woodland Trust Scotland, Michael Russell MSP has suggested changes to the Land Reform Bill. The amendments call for giving SNH more powers to ensure that deer populations are better controlled by deer management groups to protect the public interest.
Mike Russell MSP said: “Recent information from SNH confirms that the voluntary system of deer management is not working. It requires considerable legislative strengthening if it is to be an effective way of controlling the ever increasing number of deer across Scotland which in some places is threatening biodiversity and the existence of commercial forestry. In some cases the decision to allow that to happen is taken by owners for entirely selfish purposes but in others it is the result of many years of failed management by competing interests. The Land Reform Bill contains some provisions on deer management but they do not, in my view, go far enough and I am therefore grateful for the help of Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB Scotland and others in formulating some initial amendments to start to find an effective way to tackle this serious and growing problem.”
Head of Policy for Scottish Wildlife Trust, Dr Maggie Keegan, said: “The Scottish Wildlife Trust wholeheartedly backs Mike Russell’s suggested amendments because in some areas of Scotland, high deer numbers are wreaking havoc on internationally important habitats such as rare Atlantic oak woodland.
“The lack of progress towards sustainable deer management under the present voluntary system is frustrating and puts at risk Scottish Government ambitions regarding climate change, peatland restoration and woodland expansion targets. For the sake of protecting Scotland’s natural capital, we hope the Scottish Government will support Mr Russell’s suggested amendments which are part of the step change needed to help deliver sustainable deer management.”
Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, Duncan Orr-Ewing, said “In the absence of natural predators, removed by man in previous centuries, the sustainable management of deer is a key issue if we are to prevent further deterioration to some of our most important wildlife sites. We support the provision of new deer management powers to SNH to help deliver our 2020 biodiversity targets, as well peatland restoration, and native woodland expansion. We encourage the Scottish Government to support these proposals for legislative change”.