Deer Management

The Challenge: How to get the balance right in deer numbers on the ground so that provide benefits to people (e.g. for venison and employment and tourism) but don't cause damage (e.g. to wildlife habitats or road accidents).

The Response: Work with a range of people, but especially deer managers and people who are interested in deer, to promote understanding about the need to manage deer in a way that takes into account a wide range of interests and perspectives.

Deer management has been a source of controversy in Scotland for over 50 years.
This is because deer bring benefits through

  • the income and employment supported by people paying to stalk deer.
  • being iconic animals which local people and visitors want to see.
  • being part of Scotland’s natural heritage.

Deer also create problems through

  • damage to nature conservation interests.
  • damage to farms and forestry.
  • causing road traffic accidents..

Getting the balance right between the benefits deer bring and the costs they create is the nub of deer management. In its simplest form deer management is about getting the right amount of deer on the ground (often expressed as deer density or the number of deer divided by the area of land) so the impacts they cause are acceptable to all who use the land. In practice this is very difficult to achieve as the deer herd which may support a stalkers living may be too big for the forester or the nature conservationist. Deer management is a complex subject because there are so many land management objectives in Scotland and different objectives require different densities of deer. 

Deer management has caused conflict and debate on a national scale but national debates have often had a focus within the Cairngorms National Park. This is largely due to the conservation importance of the Cairngorms Park, which contains many vulnerable habitats like Caledonian pinewoods and alpine vegetation. In the past too many deer have damaged these habitats eg pinewoods have been prevented from regenerating as deer have eaten each year’s crop of seedlings.

A Better Picture
In the last 10-20 years many landowners have worked with agencies to bring deer back into balance with their habitats within the Cairngorms National Park. Many pinewoods are now regenerating, many upland habitats are in good health and the deer population in the core Cairngorms counted in 2005 was the lowest recorded since the 1970s. Nationally, government statistics collected on designated nature conservation sites show 92% are in good condition or under management regimes which will ensure recovery to a healthy state. In the Park at least 500ha of new pine regeneration has been added to the Abernethy Forest and the Glenfeshie pinewood is beginning to recover well. 

Many people particularly in rural communities are concerned that deer numbers may fall too low and that stalking jobs and incomes may be lost in future. There is no evidence of such losses to date but the concern is valid and needs to be monitored by agencies.

Work still needs to be done to ensure deer are in balance with their habitats and that they stay that way, but the improved situation opens up new opportunities for deer managers. It’s a good time to show pride in Cairngorms deer and show them off to new audiences. There may be new income streams arising from increasing public information about deer and their management. There is certainly an opportunity to capitalise on the health and local food benefits of venison. And there is still ample demand for sport stalking. Controversy and arguments surrounding deer management should diminish over time leaving deer as fantastic animals we can all be proud of.

For more information contact Will Boyd-Wallis at Cairngorms National Park Authority Tel: 01479 870547 E-mail: willboydwallis@cairngorms.co.uk

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