Following the Scottish Government’s publication of Section 2 of the Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill, it is hard to take a positive outlook on the future of red deer stalking in Scotland.

On 17 November, the individual responses made to the Bill were released on the Internet. Though there were some emphatic responses from organisations, landowners, gamekeepers and various other stakeholders with genuine worries, we have to ask ourselves whether the valid comments made will actually be taken into consideration. Being optimistic, there is the hope that some of the alarming suggestions made — with particular reference to close seasons, night shooting and use of vehicles for driving deer — will be shelved for the time being. However, with the weight that the Government carries, it seems inevitable that their inadequately thought-out proposals will proceed to legislation at some point in the future.

In spite of any changes that may be imposed on us by the Bill, there is certainly a case for better communication between estates. Co-operation has already shown results, with Mar Lodge, in Aberdeenshire, coming under heavy pressure from its neighbours for its continuous culling of deer since 1995. This is just one example of when deer so often are made the scapegoat. Mar Lodge, run by The National Trust for Scotland, yearns for natural regeneration, therefore deer are given the “zero tolerance” tag and the manner in which they have been exterminated is far from the romantic ideal that stalking once held. Only recently has there been the admission that poor soil is a leading factor in the failure to regenerate Caledonian pine woodland.

This is just one example of how poor deer management has drastically changed the hills of Scotland. Deer Management Groups (DMGs) meet to discuss cull numbers and address issues, but I was aware at our last meeting that several members were absent without reason. Q1 and Q2 of Section 2 of the Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill address whether sustainable deer management should remain with landowners. Whereas the majority act diligently in this area, the few who do not are going to have a detrimental effect on those around them. If the DMGs can prove competence and co-operation then it will surely banish the necessity of open seasons, night shooting or deer driving.

While recently reading extracts from J.G. Millais’ Wanderings and memories when he stalked in Perthshire in 1918, I could see few changes from 90 years ago to now. However, I fear that the changes that could take place in the next 10 years will be irreversible. Those who value traditional stalking and a future for further generations have a mammoth task to adapt to the legislation that is thrown our way in order that the hills still host the majestic deer for centuries to come. Surely the greatness of a mammal present in our country for more than 11,000 years is of national importance?

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