The idea that stalking should be cheaper and more widely available is not a new one. This recently reported proposal (News, 7 October)comes from the MacMillan report Conservation with a Gun published last year and is based on data that goes back five years. It presumes a problem exists when, in fact, Scotland’s red deer numbers are largely in balance. Yes, there remain too many deer in some places, but there are too few in others. What is certain is that we have all become much better at managing impacts where and when they occur, and the mantra that there are too many deer is one that should be buried once and for all.

As for broadening participation in stalking, considerable good work by the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group (SCSTG) is attracting new blood both from the UK and overseas. As a sport and a necessary management practice, stalking is neither elitist nor expensive. Anyone who holds a firearms certificate, has the necessary equipment and, most importantly, has the proper training and permissions, can go stalking, and they do.

It is this “voluntary” sector that the MacMillan report has chosen largely to ignore, focusing instead on estate owners, their families and top-end clients. Made up of skilled men and women of all backgrounds, the voluntary sector covers leased stalking to individuals who effectively supplement the efforts of the estate stalker and comprise a now significant component

of the deer management capability in Scotland. They work with private estates and public and non-governmental organisation landowners such as Forestry Commission Scotland. It is a sector that needs encouragement through better support, promotion and recognition. More private and Government effort and resources should go into facilitating greater accessibility and voluntary attainment of Deer Management Qualifications levels 1 and 2 and continuing professional development. It is important to avoid mandatory regulation and other barriers to entry that the proposed Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill could potentially introduce.

But should the hind cull be opened up to provide a budget stalking experience? Estate stalkers work hard and often in the worst conditions to achieve their targets. The prospect of short winter days accompanying new recreational stalkers would interfere significantly with this. Furthermore, there are issues relating to deer welfare and safety, which make introducing inexperienced sportsmen and women to the hind cull at this time not a viable option.

There certainly is a place for new entrants to deer management and to stalking. Scottish stalking positively welcomes enthusiastic men and women of all backgrounds wanting that experience, but not as the solution to an imaginary problem.

Have your say: if you have a view on a current news topic, send it, in no more than 500 words, to selena_masson@ipcmedia.com.

Have your say: if you have a view on a current news topic, send it, in no more than 500 words, to selena_masson@ipcmedia.com.

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