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To cull or not to cull? Oh deer...

We attended the Scottish Venison Summit on Monday 20 November to hear about the updates on the current venison market and the issues suppliers face, with the recent new legislation to abolish the closed male deer season. Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, Lorna Slater spoke at the event about the new deer legislation recently passed by the Scottish Government.

We asked Ms Slater how the Scottish Government are proposing to support retailers in supplying venison to the general public given the expected increase in culls. Interestingly there was no definitive answer forthcoming, but she welcomed constructive input from stakeholder organisations to help implement this. Ms Slater was keen to stress that culling deer is now easier with the passing of the new legislation to abolish the closed male deer season, legislation that the majority of organisations did not want. It was further noted that they are exploring incentives for shooting more deer since primary venison producers are currently incurring a loss when shooting deer, particularly in relation to lowland roe deer. Current venison prices sit at around £1.80 - £2.40 per kilo which is not enough to cover the costs for deer stalking and culling operations. Government incentives and grants need to be made available for the proposed increased cull that the Scottish Government are suggesting.

In order for deer management practitioners to cull an estimated 50,000 more deer in Scotland, a proper infrastructure of chillers, cold larders, and butchery services would be needed to store and process good quality venison for human consumption. We must ensure that a high standard of meat production is maintained that Scotland can be proud of.

But before we start the supply of additional venison that the Scottish Government are proposing, should we pause to consider where these population figures originated from? The British Deer Society (BDS) wrote an article recently discussing deer population numbers in the UK, “Fact or Fiction? UK deer numbers are at their highest levels in 1000 years – at around 2 million”. A very interesting read as Ms Slater is pronouncing that the deer population in Scotland is currently sitting at around 1 million. However, this article suggests that fixating on population figures alone does not show the full picture when considering deer welfare. Do we really want to heighten the public’s perception that one of our most iconic species is a “pest species” that needs to be culled? All species of mammal require a healthy population, with a mix of male and female of varying ages, and in the right ratios.

The Scottish Countryside Alliance strongly opposed the abolition of the closed male deer season. We wholeheartedly agree with the BDS that deer management practices need to be based on well informed management data rather than sensationalistic and confusing population figures taken from limited and outdated data. Effective deer management practices need to be continually reviewed and assessed to plug any gaps in knowledge and ensure that the six species of deer residing in the UK are managed ethically and sensitively for generations to come.

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