Deer management

Tuesday 21 January 2014, 19:42

Tim Scoones Tim Scoones Excecutive Producer Springwatch

As you may have seen in Tuesday night’s show, Scotland’s Caledonian pine forests would require intense regeneration if damage that has happened over a number of years is to be redressed.   The fact that this can involve intervention via deer culling means that this can be an emotive issue.

The presence of large numbers of deer and livestock can impact heavily on sapling regeneration.  Landowners are being asked to look at alternative ways of managing their woodlands.

To bring deer numbers down to a level where saplings are able to survive, Deer Management Groups take on the responsibility for calculating deer population density and recommending levels of culling if necessary.

A Code of Practice on Deer Management has now been approved by the Scottish Parliament. 

We’ve provided further information and links below if you want to find out more about deer management, and for the latest news on this topic from our BBC News colleagues.  We’ve also asked two experts in this field to provide their own perspective on deer management.

As ever we welcome your comments and encourage you to have your say using the Comments button below, but we ask you to please respect the opinion of others. 



Scottish Natural Heritage's deer management information



Scottish Natural Heritage’s Code of Practice on Deer Management

Monty Don investigates deer management 

SMPs hear calls for tougher deer controls 

Orphaned deer study



Richard Cooke is Chairman of the Association of Deer Management Groups and of the Lowland Deer Network Scotland.

"Deer are to be found in every part of Scotland from the high tops of the Highlands to the centre of our towns and cities.
Counts of red deer by Scottish Natural Heritage indicate a downward trend while the numbers of the three other species, roe, fallow and sika are thought to be rising. 
Recent parliamentary attention has been on the management of red deer particularly in the Highlands where aggregated counts indicate a total of around 275,000 but numbers are less important than impacts on their habitat.
Excessive concentrations of deer, particularly on designated sites or areas where habitat change is intended, can cause damage. In some situations protection by temporary fencing is the only means to achieve environmental change while maintaining deer numbers at a level which meet other management objectives including deer stalking which is a major land use and source of employment across many of the remoter parts of Scotland (2,500 fte).
Recent debate about red deer management concerns the effectiveness of the  voluntary approach. This is conducted through Deer Management Groups (DMGs) of which there are currently 39 which include all the landholdings within a deer population area.
They work together to count the deer in their area, agree target populations and implement a management cull to maintain that population. An effective DMG will have a Deer Management Plan and  monitor habitat condition.
Over recent years, a 20 year strategy for deer management, a Code of Practice and Best Practice Guidance has been developed and professional training is now standard.
I strongly assert that the management system which balances different interests, reflects local circumstances and is responsive to change is essential and, while there is always room for improvement, we have such a system."



Mike Daniels is head of Land & Science, John Muir Trust and has worked for the Trust since 2008. He previously worked for Deer Commission for Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage.
"Red deer are an essential part of Scotland’s wild landscapes. They are impressive, large native mammals that have a crucial role in shaping ecosystems. However, the elimination of their natural predators, and the focus of sporting estates on stag numbers for shooting, has dramatically increased the population
High deer densities prevent native woodlands from regenerating. They also trample blanket bogs and prune montane shrubs, such as juniper, to the ground. At least a quarter of ‘designated features’ across Scotland are in unfavourable condition due to deer damage, including 28 out of 54 of our most protected woodlands (e.g. Ardvar, part of the last remnant of the most northerly Atlantic oak woodlands in the British Isles. Deer impacts cost the public purse tens of millions of pounds annually, in damage to crops, deer vehicle collisions and fencing costs.  
While fences tackle the symptoms, they do not address the cause - excessive deer numbers. Fences concentrate increasing deer numbers in diminishing areas of land. They have negative impacts on sensitive landscapes, reduce populations of woodland grouse and other birds, exclude deer from vital shelter and forage in the winter, and create dense undergrowth with a negative impact on biodiversity
We need to think differently about deer management, basing it on the state of nature rather than on how many stags we can shoot for sport. The natural capacity of soils to support vegetation, which in turn supports deer and other wildlife, should be the fundamental building blocks of deer management."















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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    As much as this pains me to say this, I have to agree with some minor culling...the thing is years ago there were wolves and other natural predators that would have kept the number of deer in check, thus reducing damage to the forest habitat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Time to bring back the wolves as has been done so successfully in Yellowstone !

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.


    Minor culling is not enough Janette. We just saw Packam and Michaela pointing out that even where the dear have been heavily culled, there is a two-hundred year generation gap between the mature Scots Pine and the new saplings that have only been able to grow because the deer numbers were cut back to the kind of levels that allow saplings to grow without being nibbled off at the roots. If we are not prepared to put the natural deer predator back (wolves) then we will have to shoot them to maintain numbers at a natural level. There are now three times the number of deer in Scotland than there were forty years ago. This is not an ecological success - it is a disaster.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The key here is Deer Management, not a slaughter of Scotland's great animal. Deer are vital to the Scottish rural community I live in. I've lived and worked with Deer all my life and it's Ok for everyone to say "bring back Wolves" but in all likelihood they won't have to live with that decision. Yes we need to protect woodlands but not through a mass cull.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    As it is clear that culling has to take place, my question regards who does the culling. I am concerned that anyone can pay to shoot deer (and other game) with no proven expertise therefore making it much more likely that animals may suffer. I confess personal disappointment that people derive pleasure from felling living creatures, but am I wrong in assuming the sport is not controlled to minimise suffering of the prey?


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