A new survey has highlighted a 40% decline in the number of lowland deer culled in 2020/21 compared to the previous year, as the stark impact of the coronavirus pandemic on lowland deer management in Scotland was revealed.

The survey – commissioned by the Lowland Deer Network Scotland (LDNS) with technical support from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) – received over 100 responses from a diversity of lowland deer managers. It found that the majority of the deer culled were roe deer, but that red, fallow and sika deer were also culled.

Both organisations have attributed the cull decline to travel restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and to a lesser extent the increased utility of the countryside by the public as well as the coronavirus-induced slump in demand for venison. 

Of those surveyed, deer managers living in the same local authority area as their stalking ground were least impacted. The survey found that these community deer stalkers were able to cull 66.5% of the deer managed in the previous year – a far greater proportion than those deer stalkers travelling from further afield.

Recreational stalkers travelling from outside Scotland were only able to shoot 18.4% of the deer culled in the previous year, while those travelling from a different local authority area to their stalking ground in Scotland were able to shoot 54.6%. 

BASC and LDNS are using the findings to make the case for greater community involvement in deer management, which they say will make Scotland’s approach to lowland deer management more resilient. 

Dr Colin Shedden – who is the chairman of LDNS and BASC’s Scotland Director – said: “The impact of a 40% cull reduction on deer population dynamics, woodland ecosystems and farmland in lowland Scotland is still to be assessed, but it is likely that most managers will realise that an increased culling effort will be required this year to address this.

“Stalkers travelling from afar make an important economic and environmental contribution that absolutely should be maintained, but the results of this survey also illustrate the need to better integrate communities in the management of lowland deer. 

“Deer management is a mandatory obligation, and not all lowland areas are able to rely on professional deer managers to meet cull targets. We must therefore enable communities to step up and manage their deer, which will be particularly important when the efforts of visiting stalkers are compromised.

“Community deer stalkers have shown themselves to be highly resilient, even in the face of a global pandemic. Diversifying Scotland’s complement of deer managers to include more community deer stalkers will make lowland deer management as a whole less susceptible to disruption, which is essential if we are to effectively protect our environment.”

A spokesperson for NatureScot said: “Trying to better understand how deer management in the lowlands has been affected by the response to Covid is very welcome. While accepting that the sample size is relatively small and was geographically limited, the survey emphasises the important contribution that individual stalkers and small syndicates make to deer management. These stalkers often control deer in their own time and not as part of a paid job.

“For NatureScot the overriding message is the importance of having stalkers operating and controlling deer in their own area and not having to travel distances. Local control builds up better resilience and helps deer management to become carbon net zero.”

LDNS would like to thank BASC, the British Deer Society (BDS) and the Scottish Association for Country Sports (SACS) for their assistance in promulgating this survey to lowland deer managers.

ENDS

Notes to the Editor:

  1. Dr Colin Shedden previously sat on the board of the Deer Commission for Scotland, the government agency responsible for deer until responsibility was handed to Scottish Natural Heritage (now NatureScot) in 2010. Dr Shedden has been involved in deer management in Scotland for more than 25 years.
  • BASC is calling for deer stalking schemes to be rolled out on public land that will better integrate recreational deer stalkers from local communities and beyond in deer management. It says a replicable scheme is already operating on the Island of Arran – a partnership between BASC and Forestry and Land Scotland.