Rising deer numbers are one of the biggest threats to the survival and expansion of Scotland’s globally important temperate rainforest, according to a new report.

The document highlighted that although deer were a natural part of the rainforest’s ecosystem, they also represented a significant barrier to its restoration if not managed properly.

Publication of the report ‘Saving Scotland’s rainforest: Managing the impact of deer’ followed a suite of new powers given to land managers to help control Scotland’s rapidly-growing deer population after updated rules were introduced to the Scottish Parliament.

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The report was published by Scottish Environment LINK, the forum for Scotland’s voluntary environment community on behalf of its Deer Working Group and commissioned by the Woodland Trust Scotland.

This organisation highlighted that deer numbers were at historic highs in Scotland – and while the Scottish government had devoted funding for deer management, much of this had been for deer fencing, an approach it stated was both expensive and often ultimately ineffective in the current way that fencing is implemented on the ground.

Scotland’s rainforest is found along the West Coast of Scotland and is a globally rare habitat, part of sites classed as temperate rainforest. Woodland once covered large areas of the West Coast, but much of this had been lost, with factors that contributed to rainforest decline and fragmentation include mismanagement, overgrazing by both sheep and deer, and suppression of woodland by invasive non-native species.

The new report set out a number of recommendations, including long-term support for deer management and support for new technologies such as drone and thermal surveying.

In addition, it argued for the development of a community approach to deer stalking and management, including the establishment of more community larders, the training of community members to participate in deer culling and venison handling and much more focus placed on the management of roe and sika deer. Traditionally, deer stalking had mostly focused on red deer.

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It also encouraged the promotion of rainforest employment opportunities to schoolchildren and the marketing of 'rainforest venison' to restaurants and hospitality businesses.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, chair of Scottish Environment LINK’s deer group, said: “Scotland’s rainforest has been rightly identified by the Scottish Government as one of the priority geographical areas of Scotland where deer numbers need to be reduced to sustainable population levels. In the coming years we need to see clear evidence of Rainforest regeneration and expansion, thereby also helping to tackle the nature and climate emergency.”

The changes to existing laws introduced to the Scottish Parliament last month to make it easier to reduce unsustainable deer numbers included authorising land managers to cull male deer across a longer period of the year, use specialist ‘night sights’ to cull deer at night and use ammunition that is less damaging to venison products.

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Biodiversity minister, Lorna Slater, said: “These changes – recommended by the Deer Working Group – will allow deer to be managed in a way that is both beneficial to our environment and the rural economies that rely upon deer. Deer are an iconic species that is synonymous with rural Scotland but their numbers have reached densities that can have a devastating impact on our land due to trampling and overgrazing. This activity can prevent new trees from growing and damage existing woodland.

“The changes to rules on ammunition will also boost Scotland’s venison sector. Lead is toxic to humans and its presence can spoil venison products. That’s why we are now allowing land managers to use different types of ammunition. This will make more venison available to both foreign and domestic markets.”