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?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I was surprised to see on this evening's programme how you are happy to interfere with nature by supporting deer culling to save trees. Where will it end? Should we cull cattle to conserve grass? And then why do you glorify the urban fox? Foxes are legally described as vermin, just like grey squirrels and rats and, as you should know, we all have a duty in law to control them. It is quite wrong and dangerous to encourage townies to adopt foxes and to even feed them. We used to have a perfect, humane and eco-friendly way of controlling both foxes and deer, maintaining the true balance of nature.

    It was called Hunting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Why is it the animals that are always culled if there are too many? the many, many times I have been to the Highlands, I have seen at most 6 deers. More down in the lowlands. who says there are 350,000? the gun happy landowners?? put protection around young trees if you want them protected, it's the deers land, they have every right to eat what they want, where they want. humans are the most descructive creatures on this planet, we don't have a cull, not even worldwide birth control. wheres the logic in that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Not anyone can shoot deer!, you don't just turn up and shoot. If a Stalker isn't happy with your level of skill at a target you would never be able to go to the hill to shoot at a live animal. There is too much assumption that deer are just sport for paying guests. Much of the Deer Managment work done in Scotland is done without paying guest and for management purposes. By skilled persons and in a humane fashion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Nicky75 believe the 350,000 are figures from SNH.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    It is well known that excessive numbers of deer can harm the woodland ecology but what is less well known is that biodiversity also decreases when you have no deer at all.

    Research from both the UK and abroad indicates that deer densities of 3/km2 - 7/km2 are beneficial and the threshold at which seedling regeneration begins to be affected is at 14/km2

    On the Isle of Wight where wild Red deer have been slowly re-establishing themselves over the past 20 years and more recently Roe deer tracks have been seen the situation is very different.

    These deer have encountered great hostility from the Forestry Commission who are apparently seeking to eradicate them.

    It would appear that they want the Isle of Wight to be a long term deer free experimental zone.

    To quote Simon Hodgson, CEO, Forest Enterprise, England:-

    "by keeping the Isle of Wight with its deer free status we and others can be assured of at least some areas with no deer impacts to compare and contrast with the biodiversity on the adjacent mainland"

    It is difficult to see how the Isle of Wight's woodland ecology, the local economy and the general public benefit from this policy, nor how the public authorities are fulfilling their obligations under the "Biodiversity Duty"

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Restored woodland will benefit the ecosystem as a whole….cull deer to harmless levels. Maybe sell the venison and hunting rights to procure more land to put aside for wildlife.
    1% of Caledonian forest remains….if deer were munching the Brazilian rainforest to death we'd be up in arms!!!
    I think its down to ignorance of our natural heritage , since there's so little of it left for people to relate to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Gill people who go out to shoot deer are taken to a target before they are allowed to stalk this as been a common practise for as long as high velocity rifles have been used also they have high quality telescopic sights on the rifle biPods an increasingly use moderators to suppress the loud crack from the rifle when it is discharged and more an more stalkers guests are gaining a certificate of competence dmvq deer managment vocation qualification furthermore the idea is to make a safe clean kill heart lung shot ideally which is proven to minimise suffering by instantly killing the target animal hope this information addresses your concerns. Old greg

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The issue of deer management at mar lodge has divided the local community been shown to be ineffective in promoting regeneration an upset tourists who come to the area to see deer for centuries the proven tried and tested way of using fences to seal off areas to promote regeneration or planted trees to establish tree cover was not adopted by the managment of the estate ie snh instead a shoot on sight out of season bring in helicopters paid by the carcass contractors approach was favored witnessing dozens of deer carcass slung under a helicopter being used to extract the deer was a sight to behold I suppose at least these ones were extracted many were left un graloched on the hill. NO TO SLAUGHTER nts

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Furthermore other ruminant species were overlooked ie sheep mountain hares rabbits the out of season culling of hinds by special licence shooting at night the deer when graloched a foetus would have to be removed seeing increasing numbers of orphaned calfs the so called deer experts who masterminded this strategy are long gone though their deer free legacy remains an to what end the welfare of the deer was the last thing on the minds of these geniuses when they implemented the tree regeneration model it really saddens me to know that some of my hard earned tax money was used to fund this compleat and utter shambles favoring know it all university graduates experts tree huggers over the people who really knew how to effectively manage an conserve

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Why do SNH hate deer. During the Second World War the vast majority of the deer in the Cairngorms were shot for food. I therefore cannot understand why the hills aren't covered with 50 year old trees that would have regenerated at the time. Stop blaming deer, rather than allowing supposed academics to run things ask those who work in the hills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Hi, I would like to pass this information on to Martin, he commented on the Red Deer Antlers, being made-up of Bone, it's not Antlers are actually twisted hair, it twists as it grows, this information was given to me, authentically, a few days ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Thanks to the scientists says the presenter not a mention for the gamekeepers I'm getting the feeling that this mob would like to to sell them down the dee in the same manor they sold the deer ,good luck you all you are gonna need it with these people in charge of you old Greg

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    In closing I would add there can be only one conclusion when any sane rational sentient human being arrives at when in full receipt of the full account and manor in which in which the deer cull was undertaken at NTS mar lodge estate. And that is WHY WAS. THIS ALLOWED TO HAPPEN.old Greg (aka Ian Thomas foster)


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