IN SCOTLAND, if you are growing trees, you are also likely to be producing venison, as a byproduct of the deer culling needed to protect new planting and natural regeneration.

Making a virtue out of a necessity, Forestry and Land Scotland – which is now the country's largest venison producer, turning out 3500 tonnes of wild venison and 70 tonnes of farmed venison annually – has made a £250k investment in a new deer larder for Highland Perthshire.

The new facility, which will handle around 900 carcasses every year – but which has the capacity to deal with 1500 – provides modern premises where venison can progress into the human food chain from the point at which the deer was culled.

Deer numbers across Scotland are now estimated to be around one million. FLS, as one of many organisations tasked with keeping deer numbers to a sustainable level, culls in the region of 40,000 animals every year, providing almost 1000 tonnes of wild Scottish venison, which when processed by Highland Game Ltd, and distributed to national, UK and international markets.

FLS’ Head of Wildlife Management, Ian Fergusson, said: “Deer numbers are increasing across Scotland and in many locations this places an inordinate and unsustainable pressure on the habitats that they browse and graze.

“This imbalance presents a real challenge to Scotland’s contribution to mitigating the climate emergency because it presents a real threat to the fundamental activities of woodland creation and the sustainable woodland management of commercial timber crops.

“Twenty years ago, a larder that could handle around 300 carcasses a year was adequate – but today we need something with three times the capacity to ensure culling continues at the appropriate level in order to keep deer numbers at a sustainable level," said Mr Fergusson. “That illustrates the nature of the deer population issue now – and we anticipate that the issue of sustainability is going to take some time to achieve. It’s also something that will require close partnership and collaborative working with all land managers.”

A scientific and evidence based approach to monitoring and managing deer numbers allows FLS to manage its culling activities across all of the land that it manages yet also focus on forest areas that are most vulnerable to browsing damage from too many deer.

Speaking for the Scottish Venison Association, secretary Dick Playfair, said: “The deer cull protects our trees and our natural environment and is an important aspect in helping to address the climate change crisis. But it also provides a source of excellent, healthy protein – venison is one of the healthiest red meats available.

“Investment in making sure that that supply is safe and can meet the capability for future demand is essential and it is good to see Scotland’s largest venison producer rising to that challenge.”

Deer carcases hanging in the Tummel larder

Deer carcases hanging in the Tummel larder

The built in extra capacity at the Tummel larder is in anticipation of 'enhanced' cull levels in the years ahead, in light of continued deer damage to restock sites and natural regeneration. Future cull levels could reach between 1400 and 1500 carcasses annually, predominantly of red deer, with some roe deer and the occasional Sika or fallow deer.