SCOTLAND’S UPLAND deer sector has emerged from its three-yearly review by Scottish Natural Heritage with flying colours, with stocking densities of red deer recognised as now being below 10 animals per square kilometre.

Association of Deer Management Groups chairman, Richard Cooke responded: "We are pleased to note that the SNH 2019 report 'Assessing Progress in Deer Management' clearly recognises significant progress made by the DMGs since the 2016 review. For example, 87% of groups have scored more than 90% in the Benchmark element of the SNH assessment of DMGs, up from 36% in 2016."

There are now almost 50 DMGs, covering more than 40% of Scotland's land area, operating mainly to manage red deer in the open range and in adjacent woodland and farmland in the north of the country. Each has a deer management plan, open to public scrutiny, setting out all land use and environmental objectives in its area and identifying a target deer population which will meet the collective objectives of its members.

The grazing and trampling impacts of deer and other herbivores on the habitat are now monitored by the DMGs with a system of habitat impact assessments introduced across the open range.

Mr Cooke said: "The SNH report recognises that, overall, red deer densities are now below 10/sq km and continue to decline due to culling at higher levels than in the past. Around 22% of the red deer population is culled annually.

"The climate emergency is a matter for us all and DMGs are particularly well placed to make a contribution to Scottish Government net zero carbon targets by enabling native woodland restoration and expansion as well as peatland restoration which are now key elements of Government climate strategy," he added. "The SNH report identifies that most DMGs have recognised where such improvements can be made and many projects are being implemented. To date over 19,000ha of peatland work has been completed with much more at the planning stage, and much of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy target of 10,000ha of new native woodland by 2020 is being delivered within the DMG areas.

"We acknowledge, however, that there is more to do, particularly in relation to native woodland restoration but we will need more help from the Scottish Government and its agencies to be able to do this. While recognising that many challenges lie ahead the red deer sector has shown that it can respond to changing circumstances and that it recognises its public accountability."

SNH’s head of Wildlife Management, Robbie Kernahan, said: “We welcome the significant progress made by landowners and managers, and thank them for all their hard work so far. There are still challenges ahead – but this report shows important improvements. Enriching nature is long-term work and we expect to see more tangible benefits in the coming years, adding to Scotland’s biodiversity and helping tackle climate change.

“We continue to work with environment groups and deer managers to strengthen and develop approaches to manage deer across Scotland. We await the forthcoming Deer Working Group Report and recommendations, and SNH is committed to taking a lead role in further work to ensure Scotland deer are sustainably managed.”