The Scottish Government says the key aims of proposed changes to deer management legislation are protecting and enhancing nature and improving animal welfare.

The proposals aim to ensure legislation is fit for purpose in the context of the biodiversity and climate crises, alongside a small number of proposals concerned with farmed and kept deer.

In 2023 the Scottish Parliament passed legislative changes to give authorised land managers more powers to help control the deer population including extending the period for culling male deer; allowing the use of non-lead ammunition and permitting the use of ‘night sights’ to cull deer at night.

It is estimated there are around 1 million wild deer in Scotland, up from around 500,000 in 1990.

The government claims this extremely high population means that management is required to protect and restore important habitats, particularly woodland, and peatland, and is now seeking views on a range of further proposals to improve the current system of deer management.

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These include granting NatureScot additional powers to facilitate deer management for the purposes of enhancing the natural environment, changes to improve the welfare of wild deer when undertaking deer management, and removing barriers for venison dealers to help expand their markets and get more venison into the food supply chain.

Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater said: “Improving our natural environment and tackling the climate crisis through tree-planting, woodland regeneration, and peatland restoration would not be possible without effective deer management.

The Scottish Farmer: Lorna Slater MSPLorna Slater MSP

“We need to get the right balance of wild deer in the right areas to maximise the environmental benefits they can bring as part of a healthy, functioning ecosystem.

“The benefits of carefully managed wild deer populations are not just environmental. Deer provide important employment and social opportunities to our rural communities and they form an iconic part of Scotland’s landscape. This consultation is an opportunity for people across Scotland to have their say on further proposals to improve the management of deer populations and to help shape future legislation.”

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Scottish Land & Estates have given a cautious response to the move.

Nadia Flaherty, policy advisor at SLE said: “While there is much to be welcomed in the Scottish Government’s proposals to modernise deer management in Scotland, the proposed creation of Deer Management Nature Restoration Orders is a cause for significant concern.

“Grazing, browsing and erosion by deer do not occur in isolation and they are not the only barriers to restoring nature. It is unlikely that the imposition of these orders alone will deliver the outcomes desired by Scottish Ministers. A holistic, integrated approach is required which considers all ecosystem impacts.

“In addition, the criterion for imposing these orders is extremely vague and subjective. Given the potentially significant financial liabilities for landowners, it must be made crystal clear in what circumstances Ministers may seek to impose such an order. The subjectivity associated with this proposal in its current form leaves the door wide open to disproportionate and unreasonable decision-making.

“It is worth remembering that private landowners are already responsible for enabling some 80% of the deer management effort underway across Scotland. It is vital that any legislative change does not detract from that considerable and vital contribution.

“We look forward to engaging with Ministers and officials in the weeks and months ahead to ensure the modernisation of deer legislation is both proportionate and workable.”

The consultation will run from Friday 5 January 2024 for 12 weeks, closing on Friday 29 March 2024.