The Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG) has launched draft benchmark guidance and standards for members, as well as urging them to work closely with other land managers to adopt clear management plans. This follows recommendations made by Scotland?s Rural Affairs Climate Change and Environment Committee last November.

In his annual report, association chairman Richard Cooke called on members to ?lead change and not be dragged along ever closer to a system of regulated management?.

At the association?s AGM on 20 February, he outlined plans to work more closely and collaboratively with Scottish Natural Heritage, the Lowland Deer Network Scotland, environmental non-governmental organisations and other land managers.

Mr Cooke said: ?We are putting the ADMG draft benchmark out to consultation to all our member deer management groups (DMGs), because it is crucial that they understand what they need to do if the voluntary basis of deer management is to be considered fit for purpose and to continue into the future. It is targeted mainly at the deer groups that now exist across the open hill red deer range.?

The benchmark outlines how DMGs should operate. It covers membership, meetings and the constitution; a commitment to deer management planning, adherence to the Code of Practice on Deer Management and the ADMG Principles of Collaboration; counting, cull planning and habitat condition monitoring; as well as training and communications planning.

?While many DMGs will have no problem in attaining what will be required, or indeed already do so, other groups have a lot of ground to make up and need to take on board that this cannot be ignored and that urgent action is required,? said Mr Cooke.

?We will provide whatever support is needed to help them do so by providing training, advice and mentoring. The crux of the situation is that unless we can prove that the voluntary system can not only deliver the individual and collective objectives of DMG members but also meet the expectations of Government, then a statutory system remains a real possibility.?

Mr Cooke asked members to respond to surveys that form part of the new PACEC study of the economic and social value of Scotland?s deer sector ? which the association feels will be increasingly important in upcoming discussions of deer management at a political level.

He stressed the importance of having transparent, inclusive plans in place by the end of 2016 and said the draft benchmark guidance will help DMGs achieve this.

Copies of the proposal were distributed at the AGM and members have until 18 April to submit written comments.