Venison might well be perceived as a high value niche product, but with the Covid-19 lockdown and economic downturn, wild venison producers and game dealers look set to become the latest victim of the pandemic – unless financial assistance from Government becomes available.

According to a survey carried out in May by the Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG), if, in a worst case scenario no let stalking or venison sales were to be possible as a result of Covid 19, direct losses to the wild deer sector could total up to £9m. The figures were from a survey based on responses from 103 businesses covering just under 2m acres of land extrapolated for the whole red deer range.

ADMG chairman, Richard Cooke, said venison dealers and processors had lost all their restaurant, foodservice and catering customers during the Covid-19 crisis; also the export market to Europe. As a result, deer carcase prices paid by some game dealers have crashed – from £2.20-£2.30 per deadweight kg in 2019 to a 2020 stag season opening price of £1/dwkg.

"Due to the extraordinary situation this year the venison market is extremely fragile – demand is much reduced, and there is a carry over of stock from last year now in storage. Furthermore, necessary social distancing measures in processing plants have reduced efficiency and added cost. Yet a normal cull must be taken to keep deer numbers at current levels and prevent environmental impacts. The Scottish Venison Association is in discussion with the Scottish Government for assistance and that could be critical in bridging a very difficult period. Hopefully we can see a steady recovery and returning to a more normal situation in 2021 but to achieve that both producers and processors will need to weather the storm." said Mr Cooke.

Gordon Slaughter, managing director of Fyne Game, Inveraray, Argyllshire, who normally handles 25,000-27,000 head of deer per year said trade was "desperate."

"The whole industry is reliant upon the hotel and restaurant trade and while they are opening up, only limited choices are available when people are very much watching the pennies in the wake of a recession. Venison is a niche product and although still seen as healthy and trendy, hotels and restaurants are only offered two or three cheaper dishes when it is the younger people that are looking to eat out."

Ruaridh Waugh of Ardgay Game, who takes in up to 10,000 wild deer from Highland Estates, every year to sell in this country and abroad, said venison tends to run in three to seven year cycles. It grows in popularity, people want more of it, breeding stock numbers are increased and it is then a race to the bottom. However, in contrast to beef, he said people will only pay so much for Scottish venison.

Add to that Scotland's stalking season which falls on the back of New Zealand's and the industry is always playing catch up.

"It is always cheaper to buy venison from stocks already available in cold stores and there are supposedly £millions of pounds worth available, rather than cut up a fresh carcase," said Ruaridh.

"We also have the problem competing on price for venison from Spain and Poland, where wages are so much less," he concluded.