Deer stalking under threat as Scotland’s cold weather continues.

The Deer Commission for Scotland (DCS) has warned thousands of deer could starve to death during one of Scotland’s coldest ever winters.

This news comes after the government agency recently sent out a letter to all deer managers in Scotland encouraging them to continue with their planned deer management targets.

“This winter has been quite exceptional and access to forage has been a major problem,” DCS’s director of deer management Robbie Kernahan said.

He added: “We are expecting substantial losses. Shooting virtually stopped in January. There are concerns estates will not be able to meet cull targets and that the stalking economy will be badly affected as well.”

Mr Kernahan said the DCS is expecting significant winter mortality this year, but it is too difficult to judge numbers yet.

“The DCS shares the concerns of deer managers about the impact this weather will have on the health of Scotland’s deer species, but we hope that the prospect of higher mortality will not prevent estates delivering on their cull targets.”

Donald Fraser, the DCS’s deer officer for the North East, said unless there is a thaw soon there will be a significant number of mortalities.

“There could be thousands. The estates are quite worried. The full effects will not be felt until the spring. A lot of the deaths will come later, as many animals will get through this period but then not have the energy and condition to survive past that.”

Robert Balfour owns the Balbirnie estate in Fife and is chairman of the Association of Deer Management Groups.

He said: “What we are talking about is natural mortality in our deer herds on a scale that will not have been seen for many years. Finding a single dead deer carcass in the hills or woods is distressing, but we know that there will be large groups of deer that have simply been unable to survive the arctic conditions.”

Mr Balfour added estate owners need to work closely with their stalkers to decide how to manage the deer: “Ultimately, each deer manager has to make their own decision for their particular circumstances, including culling deer for welfare reasons. It is unlikely that culling deer to meet cull targets is the sustainable thing to do.”

BASC’s Dr Colin Shedden said stalking conditions have been difficult for many and hind culls have been reduced.

“We agree with the DCS there has been a greater than normal natural mortality of red deer over the past few weeks. What is worrying is the fact most natural mortality in red deer occurs in March and it will be difficult for many deer to recover sufficient condition before then, especially if it is wet.”

Dr Shedden said roe have not been hit as hard: “The situation for roe deer has been mixed. Roe on lower ground and with access to shelter appear to have fared well, with does in good condition still being shot. On higher, more open ground such as the Angus Glens, the recently established hill roe populations have fared less well, with dead deer being reported from early January. For many of these populations this could have been the worst winter weather that they have experienced.”

Talk to other readers about the deer stalking situation in Scotland.

  • Philip Robba

    I shoot in nearby Spain and one of the shot partridges (red legged) had an egg which had not been laid presumably during the summer. I have never seen anything like this before. Could you offer some explanation?

  • liveing in the hills

    Have noticed that some estates are chaseing red deer back up into the snow covered hills away from lower land shelter & easyer grazing for fear of loseing them to other estates.
    Ok so some farmers will take a shot at them when they start eating livestock feed but wouldent these estates be better reminded that the deer will reurn to the hills once the thaw comes.

    Bit cruel what they are doing dont you say.

    If you were to ask estates to put out som feed for the herds they will tell you they cant get to them for the depth of snow. Funny they can get to the when they want to shoot them.

    Then they tell you the deer dosent belong to them
    but as soon as a pocher shoots one “THAT DEER WAS OURS OFFICER ARREST HIM !”

  • Sonia Mascaro

    I would like to see the video about this reportage (Deer stalking under threat as Scotland’s cold weather continues) I saw on BBC World News in 18-02-2010. May you please send me the link to this video?
    Thank you.
    Sonia Mascaro.

  • Iain Thornber

    Wild red deer are dying this winter largely due to two reasons. Firstly their traditional wintering grounds have been lost to plantations because the Scottish Government has more than doubled the planting grant resulting in a surge of applications; secondly the bulk of the deer dying (viz., the aged, infirm and weak) should have been selectively culled at the beginning of the stag and hind seasons instead of being left until the winter set in. Unfortunately many estates are still playing the ‘numbers game’ and attempting to cull a pre determined number instead of concentrating on good management principals.