The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA)was among the organisations to give evidence on deer management in Scotland to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee at Holyrood on 13 November. Others giving evidence included the Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB Scotland and the John Muir Trust. Environmentalists and some conservation organisations were calling for legal measures to be brought in to force landowners and estate managers to cull many more deer to encourage reforestation (see The deer-forest divide, 13 November). However, sporting estates strongly oppose a statutory deer management system, as do the SGA, Scottish Land & Estates and the Association of Deer Management Groups.

The inquiry comes only 18 months after the implementation of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act and the supporting Code of Practice on Deer Management, giving little time for its effects to be seen. Alex Hogg, chairman of the SGA, commented: “We were glad to have the chance to make the case for workers in remote communities. There is a real fear that if we lose the balancing input of working people when it comes to deer management, jobs will be lost and local businesses in these communities will suffer. There was a lot of contesting of how many deer we actually have in Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage will be able to present the accurate picture when they give evidence.

Communities and jobs

“What was interesting was that, in all the talk about conservation aspects, little was heard — other than from ourselves and the people who work every day in deer and wildlife management — about communities or jobs in these areas. The argument has been made that a statutory deer management system would create more gamekeeper jobs. I have been a keeper for about 40 years and previously worked for the Forestry Commission and I can tell you, this is not the case. Full-time stalker jobs in these areas, and the wildlife and habitat management that goes with that, will be removed. In their place, contract stalkers will be flown in to shoot as many deer as is deemed to be required and will then leave the community to deal with the consequences and impact on their businesses. There will be nothing like the same level of concern for the socio-economics, the people of that community, or the welfare of the deer, which will simply become a number. A lot of progress has been made with the voluntary system, particularly when you consider 84 per cent of features on designated sites are now in a favourable or improving condition — a figure omitted from much of the debate so far. We believe the current system best balances biodiversity, deer welfare, local jobs and community socio-economics.”

Scottish Land & Estates also argued that a statutory deer management system would not be beneficial. Policy officer Anne Gray said: “We believe the current approach to deer management in Scotland is working well, with the industry firmly established, engaged and continually evolving. All aspects of deer management practice were extensively debated by the 2011 Scottish Parliament during the passage of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act and we believe the new arrangement must be given an opportunity to bed down. We suggest that the need for further regulation at this time is therefore low and it would be in nobody’s interest to spend more public money on additional regulation in an area of wildlife management that is already working well overall.

Private investment

“Sustainable deer management requires consideration of economic, environmental and social objectives all together, and the deer industry is working towards achieving a good balance. We believe that those who call for a full statutory approach to deer management place perceived environmental considerations above social and economic factors rather than looking at all three equally.

“Public and private interests are closely aligned with regard to deer management and the current delivery of the public interest through private sector activity represents very good value for money. Private stalking businesses invest substantially in remote areas, contributing to the viability of local employment and supporting often fragile rural communities. Further regulation would be unwelcome and wholly unnecessary.”