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Scottish landowners could be forced to cull deer

The Countryside Alliance has warned Ministers in Scotland to listen to the rural community when legislating about deer management.

A recent Telegraph article disclosed that Scottish Government agency NatureScot may be given greater powers to intervene in the running of estates to impose more draconian controls of deer numbers. Specifically, private landowners could be forced to cull deer on their estates to combat the environmental harm caused by deer numbers in Scotland doubling to an estimated one million since 1990.

Under Green minister Lorna Slater’s proposal, a Deer Management Nature Restoration Order (DMNRO) could be issued “where there are significant gains to be made in meeting biodiversity and climate objectives through deer management”. This would expand the authority of government officials, who currently can only order a cull to mitigate damage caused by deer to trees and other plant life.

Jake Swindells, Director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance, said: “Whilst it is acknowledged and welcomed that Ministers wish to engage with rural stakeholders over this important issue, it has not been forgotten that the advice of the majority of the rural sector was ignored when legislation, such as the opening up of male deer seasons, was introduced in 2023.”

The “primary criterion” for a DMNRO would be where NatureScot “assessed that there are social, economic or environmental benefits to be achieved through nature restoration over a specified area”, including “tree planting, encouraging natural regeneration, peatland restoration, water management, natural capital enhancement”. Consequently, land managers could be forced to undertake deer culling, deer fencing, detailed habitat assessment, or deer counting.

But Mr Swindells warned: "Whilst we appreciate that there are some positives being considered, this consultation regularly refers to deer “culls”, which shows a complete lack of value for such an iconic species in Scotland. Minister Slater talks of “maximising socioeconomic benefits” and the benefits to “employment and social opportunities” with the proposed legislation, but this was not considered in other recent and harmful legislation such as the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill which demonstrated the Government’s willingness to ignore the evidence regardless of harm to communities and wildlife".

He added: “We will attempt to work with Ministers to help shape legislation that works for both deer health and welfare, and for biodiversity, but the Scottish Government must start listening, instead of ignoring, responses from the rural community and stop steam-rolling their own pre-determined laws through parliament. This must be led by Scotland’s experienced land managers, not bureaucrats”.

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