Rory Kennedy: Benefits of field sports go far beyond tourism

Scottish Forest Enterprise culls 30,000 deer a year. Picture: Getty
Scottish Forest Enterprise culls 30,000 deer a year. Picture: Getty
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Scotland’s field sports undoubtedly deliver significant tourism spend to our rural communities. However, this is often the sole argument used against its detractors in public debate.

Importantly, it can also prove a vital contribution to all three pillars of rural sustainability: environment, economy and culture, and this needs to be better recognised in government policy.

Shoot days see the majority of the island’s 40 strong community engaged

The current position of the Scottish Government seems contradictory; ideologically focused on mass culling deer by contractors, while arguing land reform is necessary to enhance public amenity. Public sector organisations, including Scottish Natural Heritage and Scottish Forest Enterprise, spend significant sums to control deer populations, with the latter culling around 30,000 deer annually as part of its forest management programme at a cost of around £4 million.

Meanwhile community-based hunting schemes can contribute towards deer cull targets while also enhancing recreational amenity. Indeed, there is no greater connectivity with the natural world than being able to ethically and sustainably harvest its natural resources for the table. While public bodies support the benefits of sports stalking, they seem reluctant to do so publicly. This has fostered a strong suspicion that the political establishment has a closed mind to field sports, which it sees as an indulgence for the elite. This mind-set means Scotland will fail to grasp an opportunity which can enrich our rural communities.

Earlier this summer, at the Scottish Game Fair held at Scone Palace, Chiene + Tait hosted an event with Toby Fichtner-Irvine from the Isle of Muck. Prior to moving his family there to set up a commercial pheasant shoot, the island was in serious decline. Many of the inhabitants were unable to live there throughout the year as there were few winter employment opportunities, a seasonal ferry service and only 10 hours of electricity generation a day.

A decade on, Toby and his family’s efforts in developing field sports on Muck has led to a year-round tourism model which has been an enabler for investment in the island’s infrastructure, including a year-round scheduled ferry service and 24-7 power generation. The formerly mothballed hotel has now been replaced with an impressive new lodge, supporting year-round employment. Meanwhile, shoot days see the majority of the island’s 40 strong community engaged in its operations, from beating and picking-up to preparing lunches. The shoot has also enhanced biodiversity with the culling of previously uncontrolled rat and crow populations allowing more vulnerable species, including golden eagles, to thrive.

The land reform narrative often pitches community ownership and field sports interests as incongruous. Nothing could be further from the truth in the case of North Harris Trust, which represents the 1,000 residents of one of the largest community-owned estates in Scotland.

For example, the field sports on offer to guests visiting Amhuinnsuidhe Castle, which was allowed to lease back part of the community’s stalking rights following the buy-out in 2003, bring significant economic benefits to the local population. Meanwhile, the Trust has widened access to hunting through its own community-based deer stalking club. For a modest annual fee, residents can hunt deer in a sustainably managed manner, harvest the venison, while working with Scottish Natural Heritage under its local deer management plan.

Our government’s aversion to amenity hunting on public ground is unique amongst developed northern hemisphere countries. In much of Europe community-led “hunting circles” manage local game populations on public ground based on approved cull levels. This provides an insight of what could be done across Scotland.

Managed properly, field sports not only have the potential to benefit Scotland economically through enhanced tourism, but can also provide an important link between rural communities and access to the land. Instead of putting increasing tax payer resources towards process-culling our deer, there is a far more sustainable way forward.

• Rory Kennedy is head of rural estates at Chiene + Tait