Deer could be shot all year round under wildlife law reforms
SCOTLAND'S traditional deer-stalking seasons could be scrapped in favour of year-round shooting, under plans to be unveiled by ministers today.
Richard Lochhead, the rural development secretary, will publish a series of proposals to modernise and reform Scotland's wildlife laws.
One of the proposals is for stronger action to address problems created by invasive non-native species such as Japanese knotweed and the American signal crayfish.
However, another of the measures to be put out to consultation – and by far the most controversial – would give ministers the power to alter or abandon the close season for deer stalking. At the moment, male deer cannot be shot between 21 October and 30 June.
The proposal has been made because of the large numbers of deer now roaming the Scottish hills, the damage they do to the natural environment and the need for flexibility in culling their numbers.
But the proposal is not likely to win universal support, particularly among shooters and landowners. Colin McClean, the wildlife manager at Glen Tanar estate on Deeside, said: "This will mean that stags can be shot anywhere, all year round without any protection.
"It will lead to over-exploitation of male deer but also under-exploitation of female deer."
He added: "Removal of close seasons is detrimental to all interests and must not become law."
But Mike Daniels, the chief scientific officer of the John Muir Trust, said: "There are no welfare grounds for having this in place and the removal of the close season will allow us to manage deer more effectively."
Ministers are unlikely to express a firm view on the removal of close seasons for stalking until the consultation process is completed, in three months time.
But yesterday Mr Lochhead said that many of Scotland's wildlife laws are outdated and need to be brought into the 21st century.
He said: "Our natural environment is one of our most valuable assets, worth around 17 billion to the Scottish economy. It is therefore vital that we ensure we do all we can to protect and enhance it.
"We need to ensure that an appropriate legislative framework is in place which enables us to react to changing circumstances and new challenges, and which will continue to deliver public benefit from the sustainable management of our wildlife and natural environment."
He added: "We therefore intend to update and streamline existing wildlife and natural environment legislation where it is appropriate to do so.
"Any legislation of this kind must take into account the views of those living and working in our countryside, which is why I am seeking the views of experts from both land-owning and conservation organisations during this consultation process."
The consultation was welcomed by Duncan Orr Ewing, RSPB Scotland head of species and land management.
He said: "The management of deer populations and game species ought to be as modern and sustainable as possible, to protect and enhance the countryside of the 21st century and the wildlife and rural businesses that rely on it."
HIGH COST OF UNWANTED ALIENS
ALIEN species have become an acute problem in many parts of Scotland.
Japanese knotweed is a particularly virulent invader. It damages buildings, smothers train tracks and clogs up riverbanks and habitats, costing millions of pounds each year to control.
It is believed to affect an area in the UK the size of London and the cost of its removal using current techniques is estimated at 2 billion.
American mink, brought to the UK for fur farms in the 1950s, have destroyed huge numbers of native animals in the UK, particularly water voles and sea birds.
Then there is the grey squirrel, the most high-profile alien invader, which is pushing the native red squirrel further and further north in the UK.
Some experts have warned that the American signal crayfish could wipe out salmon stocks unless concerted action is taken.
But there are other, less noticeable invaders, like Rhododendron ponticum. Recent estimates suggests it could cost as much as 25 million to clear the invasive plant from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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