Flood risks mean wider society paying price for deer on nation’s estates

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THE letters (13 January) from John Hunt and Benedict Bate, supporting Mike Russell MSP’s call for stronger powers to require landowners to cull deer in the Land Reform Bill, reflect widespread concern about the environment damage caused by high deer numbers.

What appears to be missing from both Westminster and Holyrood government reactions to the recent flooding events is any explicit recognition that management of sporting estates, both deer stalking estates and grouse moors, is an important factor in downstream flooding. Grouse shooting estates burn and drain the land and deer stalking requires large numbers of deer, which destroy tree seedlings and graze ground vegetation to the bone. Both systems minimise the water storage capacity of the land, causing a greater volume and rate of run-off of water, which exacerbates flooding.

As John Hunt points out, concern about excessive deer numbers goes back to the 1950s. The contribution of sporting estates to increased flooding risk and reduced carbon sequestration in an increasingly stormy world should take that concern to the very heart of government.

Roy Turnbull

Nethy Bridge, Inverness-shire

The letters supporting the calls for more powers for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) in the Land Reform Bill, cite that deer numbers have increased threefold since 1960 (or the 1950s) and that much damage has been “wreaked on Scotland in pursuit of antlered trophies.” But where is the evidence?

Evidence provided by SNH to the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee at Stage 1 of the Bill process was to the effect that, contrary to damage by deer on a widespread scale as these correspondents would have us believe, significant improvements have been and continue to be made. For example 85.3 per cent of designated site features where deer are present are in “favourable condition, recovering due to management, or unfavourable but with site condition monitoring herbivore targets being met.” (SNH 2015). Thus deer impacts remain to be addressed on 14.7 per cent of designated sites and this figure is on a downward trend.

So much for claims of “irreparable damage”.

The Association of Deer Management Groups does not oppose the proposal in the Bill for additional powers for SNH to intervene where necessary, but it has powers to intervene already under Section 8 of the Deer (Scotland) Act, which have never been used.

Times have changed since the publication of the Hunt Report in 2003, although even then its conclusions were highly questionable. It is a pity those who still insist on quoting deer numbers (which are also declining, along with sheep numbers) rather than impacts, and rolling out the same spurious arguments, cannot wake up and see the deer management sector now and where it is going – or maybe it just does not suit their respective agendas to do so.

Richard Cooke

Chairman, Association of Deer Management Groups, Fort William

While it suits the £200 million a year stalking industry to play up the damage done by deer, culling is a cruel and ineffective way to resolve conflicts with deer, who regulate their numbers according to available food, water and shelter.

Killing them just means the remaining deer flourish because the food supply grows. Humane measures – including habitat modification, reducing food sources and using deterrents like motion detectors and repellents – are the only methods that actually keep deer numbers down.

Sascha Camilli

People for the Ethical Treatment, of Animals, London