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Devil in new deer laws is in the detail

Proposed changes to legislation in Scotland include close seasons, use of firearms, competence register, sale of venison and control orders.

On 5 January the Scottish government launched a public consultation on major proposals to change the legislation around deer management in Scotland titled Managing deer for climate and nature (see News p6), which closes on 29 March. BASC will publish advice on the consultation but I thought I’d take a look at some of the main proposals of interest. 

Before we start, though, let’s recap on the changes to Scottish deer-related legislation that took effect in October and November of last year. 

First, there is no longer a close season for male deer — red, sika, fallow, roe. Secondly, the use of thermal-imaging and night-vision riflescopes are now permitted. Thirdly, the minimum bullet weight has been reduced from 100-gr to 80-gr to allow deer managers to continue using .243 calibre and other similar cartridges with lead-free ammunition. These changes were consulted on in the summer of 2023. 

Changes in law 

So what’s in the latest consultation? It’s a long list of suggested changes in law, some of which have been around for years, as they were part of a Deer Working Group suite of recommendations, and others that are completely new. 

There is a proposal that the close season for female deer of all species should be changed to 31 March to 30 September, which is envisaged as covering the period of highest animal welfare risk. And on firearms law, the use of a shotgun to kill deer may become subject to stricter regulation. 

We could see the venison dealers’ licence requirement scrapped. The sale of venison would then follow the same regulatory procedure as other wild meat and game products. NatureScot may be granted new emergency powers to tackle damage caused by deer, and there are several proposals around farmed deer and the capture of live deer. 

There will be mixed views on some of the above, but I think most will be opposed to the following two proposals. First, there is a suggestion that anyone shooting deer in Scotland should meet fit and competent standards as evidenced by having achieved at least deerstalking certificate (DSC) level 1. 

There is some ambiguity around the detail of this proposal and whether it is for unaccompanied deer managers or everyone shooting deer. In any case, BASC’s position is clear — we support industry-led voluntary training and are opposed to the introduction of mandatory competence testing for any form of shooting. 


Secondly, there is a proposal to give NatureScot powers to impose deer management nature restoration orders on landowners requiring actions such as fencing, reductions in deer numbers, cull plans and reporting for designated areas — with non-compliance being an offence. 

BASC Scotland director Peter Clark has requested a meeting with the minister leading on the proposed changes, Green Party MSP Lorna Slater, to discuss our concerns around some of the proposals and to highlight a key opportunity that is missing — BASC’s proposal for a community-integrated deer management approach in Scotland on publicly owned land. 

Peter told me: “The outcome of this consultation will have a lasting impact on deer management in Scotland. Without a doubt, there are significant apprehensions about the proposed deer management nature restoration orders. 

“We are disappointed community deer management is not featured in the proposals. Skilled and proficient deerstalkers carry out a crucial role in managing deer populations, and these opportunities should be expanded to more areas of publicly owned land in Scotland.”