Tough cull powers may be used to cut Scottish deer numbers

Environment minister Roseanna Cunningham says she is ready to take the 'necessary steps' to get Scotland's deer population under control with the prospect of new hardline powers to cull numbers.

A stag and hind on the hillside
 at Invermark Estate, Glen Esk.
A stag and hind on the hillside at Invermark Estate, Glen Esk.

It comes amid growing concerns about the environmental impact on protected woodlands and habitats across Scotland which have been widely decimated through overfeeding by the animals.

The “rapid increase” in wild roe deer numbers in the central belt is also causing jeopardy to road users, MSPs were told yesterday.

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There are an estimated 587,000 to 777,000 wild deer roaming across Scotland. Although about 100,000 are culled annually, a recent report by MSPs warned that efforts to manage numbers are failing. Scottish Natural Heritage has been blamed for an absence of leadership in controlling the deer population.

Ms Cunningham told MSPs at Holyrood yesterday; “I am determined that we will take necessary steps to address the concerns that have been raised. I do not think that in another five years we will be having the same debate again.”

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The minister said SNH is ready to bring forward powers under Section 8 of the Deer (Scotland) Act for the first time which would enforce levels of deer culls on the landowners who would face a fine if these are not enforced.

There have been concerns that these powers are not “fit for purpose” but ministers are monitoring this situation, Ms Cunningham indicated.

“Further refinement of or addition to the powers that are available to SNH might be required. I have an open mind about that at this stage,” Ms Cunningham added.

“But it would be sensible for SNH to try the intervention powers that are available to it through section 8 before we conclude that the powers are not adequate.”

Part of the problem is that many deer management groups across Scotland are not performing their function adequately, MSPs were told.

Tory MSP Maurice Golden who sits on the environment committee which published the recent report said SNH has not provided the level of leadership in deer management expected.

He said; “There has been a failure adequately to set expectations for deer management. SNH appears to have been unable, or unwilling, to enforce the legislation to secure the natural heritage interests.”