Deer Act shake-up horror for Scottish sporting estates

Stalking deer for sport in Scotland could be very different in a couple of years time: you may need a licence, you may be able to use a shotgun and night vision as well as a rifle, there could be yet another massive reduction in deer numbers and, if you are a landowner, you may have to pay the government to shoot the deer for you. The Scottish government is planning wide-ranging reform of the deerstalking laws (download the PDF here).

Cabinet secretary Roseanna Cunningham has produced her response to the 99 points of the Scottish Deer Working group’s report, and says it will lead to an overhaul of the 1996 Deer (Scotland) Act, which provides the current framework for deer management in Scotland, and allows a system where hunting tourists can come from all over the world, shoot good quality animals, pour money into the Scottish rural economy, and enjoy the beautiful Scottish Highland landscape. 

Cunningham starts by accepting the DWG’s estimate of 1 million deer in Scotland, even though deer managers put the number at less than half of that. She writes: “…the DWG’s findings of deer population levels of over one million show there is still a great deal of work to be done to ensure deer numbers are manageable…”

Cunningham wants most of those deer dead. Among rules she wants to introduce are:

To drop the red stag season. Point 8 says: ‘The Scottish Government accepts the Deer Working Group’s recommendation to remove the close season for male deer and to keep the close season for female deer under review.’

Allow night-shooting and night vision for shooting deer. In point 7, Cunningham says: ‘next steps … could potentially include
provisions to allow the use of night sights to shoot deer under authorisation.’ 

Allow shotguns for controlling deer. In point 5, Cunningham accepts that ‘The use of a shotgun to kill wild deer should be made subject to authorisation by Scottish Natural Heritage [sic].’

Reduce red deer numbers on open ground to 10 per square kilometre. In point 86, Cunningham accepts that ‘SNH should adopt 10 red deer per square kilometre as an upper limit for acceptable densities of red deer over large areas of open range in the Highlands’. The 10 per sq km idea comes from trials at Corrour Estate, owned by Lisbet Rausing, one of a cabal of Scandinavian mega-landowners in Scotland who gratefully receive grants for forestry in exchange for wiping out local deer populations. Darlings of the SNP-Green alliance in Scotland, Lisbet Rausing has 57,000-acre Corrour, her sister Sigrid Rausing has 40,000-acre Coignafearn, Kjeld Kirk-Kristiansen has 60,000 acres in Strathconon, and Anders Povlsen has a further 220,000 acres.  

Introduce a strict hunting licence alongside the gun licence system, so only people licensed by the government are allowed to go deerstalking. In point 14, Cunningham says that ‘it is important to ensure that everyone who shoots deer in Scotland has the same basic level of training which would benefit both deer welfare and public safety… A register of persons competent to shoot deer would ensure every person undertaking deer management has the same basic level of competence and skill to do so.’

Cunningham plans to increase some of the powers of NatureScot, formerly Scottish Natural Heritage, to go on to private land to shoot deer. In point 67, Cunningham agrees to repeal the part of the emergency powers section of the Deer Act so that NatureScot does not have to go through the tiresome process of exhausting other avenues before it drops in marksmen by helicopter to shoot deer. In point 68, Cunningham agrees that, if NatureScot wants to go in and shoot deer on private land, it can bill the landowner for the costs of doing so.

Political pawns: get rid of deer and you get rid of deerstalking is the green logic in Scotland

Cunningham’s announcements are the latest in a planned campaign against Scottish deerstalking. The sport is under attack from a coalition of SNP interests that want to ‘reform’ landownership in Scotland and Green politicians who want to end hunting, shooting and fishing. In November 2019, Scotland announced that it plans a huge deer reduction programme. In January 2020, the Scottish government defended wasting public money on deer control.

The Scottish push to bring down the ‘estate system’ has its backers in England. In November 2019, UK prime minister Boris Johnson widened his attack on  trophy hunting to include UK deer. Scottish greens welcomed what they saw as an end to the 20,000 sets of antlers that deerstalkers pay for every season.

The shooting organisations are furious. Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg says: “Taxpayer forestry and woodland schemes are installing Scotland’s next wealthy landlords. The direction is clear; iconic deer stand in the way. Wildlife and Green groups will be rejoicing.

“We need input on male and female deer seasons to ensure respect remains for the species and the deer managers doing the culling. Their mental welfare wasn’t considered by this report.

“Sanctioning night scopes for culls will be endorsing something illegal across much of Europe.

“Asking deer managers to cut large moving calves from the stomachs of pregnant hinds into mid-April must be off the table if Scottish Government wants to avoid public distaste.”

BASC condemns Cunningham’s responses to the DWG report, too. The three points it says are of most grave concern are:

  • A commitment to keep the season for female deer under review, which could result in the culling of heavily pregnant deer in the spring, and the orphaning of dependent calves and kids in the autumn.
  • The normalisation of night shooting subject to trails, which carries welfare concerns and risks relegating deer to pest status.
  • The removal of the male deer close season, which will fail in reducing productivity levels.

BASC plans to raise its concerns with the newly established Animal Welfare Commission.

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