The Trust welcomes proposals to provide Scottish Natural Heritage with more powers to compel irresponsible landowners and occupiers to produce Deer Management Plans under the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. The Trust believes such provisions are long overdue and the Scottish Government should be commended in recognising the need for strengthened legislation on deer management.
However, the wording of the draft legislation falls well short of what is needed if Scotland is to tackle the widespread and often severe impact that very high numbers of deer have on Scotland’s woodlands, peatlands and uplands.
The Bill gives Scottish Natural Heritage more powers to require landowners to draw up and act on deer plans which could help tackle the problems associated with overpopulation of deer such as overgrazing, trampling and localised peatland erosion.
However, under the current draft Bill, such powers can only be used when damage is already taking place and it is unclear what, if any, consequences there are for owners and occupiers who fail to produce a plan.
The Trust wishes to see the deer management provisions in the Bill made much clearer. As the Bill passes through Parliament the Trust will work with MSPs and other partners to ensure the provisions are fit for purpose.
Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Jonny Hughes said:
“As currently drafted it is questionable whether we will see any measurable improvement in the health of those habitats in Scotland currently being severely overgrazed by deer, including internationally important Atlantic rainforests and peatlands.
“As a start, it is vital that Scottish Natural Heritage be given powers to draw up Deer Management Plans on behalf of those owners and occupiers that fail to do so in a timely manner.
“More worryingly, action by SNH can only be taken when damage has already occurred; the classic closing the stable door after the horse has bolted scenario. In reality, large parts of the uplands suffer from deer damage and we urgently need realistic targets to reduce densities in order to give our exhausted landscapes some chance of recovery.
“We have a chance with this Bill to bring in sensible management for deer that could see the return of our once great Caledonian pine forest within a generation. Getting the wording of the Bill right is paramount.”