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Land owners urged to take responsibility for deer

The National Farmers? Union (NFU), the Deer Initiative (DI), and the National Gamekeepers? Organisation, in conjunction with the Country Land & Business Association (CLA), have launched a new campaign to encourage land owners to liaise with stalkers and tenant farmers to devise a proper strategy for managing the deer on their land.

The move was prompted by the results of recent research carried out by deer biologist, Professor Rory Putman, into crop damage by sika deer in the Poole Basin in Dorset.

Professor Putman concluded that few private landowners and managers are willing to take responsibility for deer on their land.

He suggested this may, in part, be because many have let deer management to professional stalkers and no longer feel any need for personal involvement.

The group of organisations wants landowners to draw up strategies that set out the cull target, species and sex of the deer to be culled.

Stalkers then shoot the deer in accordance with the management plan.

The agreement does not grant the stalker any exclusive rights, however.

The group wants landowners to retain the right to bring in additional stalkers if the cull target is not being met.

Peter Watson, of the DI, explained landowners have a responsibility to help safeguard the crops of tenant farmers: ?In the past few months the issue of damage to agricultural crops caused by deer has been raised by a number of our partners. We have been working with them to address specifically the problems faced by tenant farmers who do not hold the sporting rights and therefore have limited options to reduce the damage. It is hoped the campaign will give them a bigger voice when it comes to arranging deer management plans.?

Some landowners are concerned that introducing deer management plans could conflict with the stalkers already leasing the land, however.

?It is said that for the letting of stalking rights to be profitable for landowners, there needs to be a plentiful supply of stags, and that means maintaining populations at high levels,? said the CLA?s Christopher Price.

He added: ?This view is misconceived. It is perfectly possible to combine profitable stalking with effective management.?

Over the next few months, the CLA will be ensuring landowners are aware of how to go about devising achievable deer management plans.

?Many land managers are already aware of their deer management responsibilities, but there is a large number who need to take a more active role to help reduce the damage caused by deer to crops. We need to make sure that landowners put together proper deer management strategies that take stalkers? needs into account,? Mr Price concluded.

BASC?s head of deer management, Alan McCormick, said he was happy to see a more focused strategic approach to the management of deer, especially in areas where their numbers are causing substantial problems for agricultural and forestry interests.

?There are many conflicting concerns that need to be considered by landowners and the generation of income from stalking leases should not necessarily be the prime factor or motivator,? he added.

Stalker Graham Downing, from Suffolk, told Shooting Times magazine any contract existing between the stalker and the landowner must be fair to both: ?On the one hand the stalker must enjoy some security, otherwise what is the point of having a lease at all? On the other, the landowner can expect the stalker to put in sufficient effort to meet agreed targets, whether these are numerical or impact-based. However, there must be sufficient flexibility to accommodate the wide range of agreements which owners and stalkers will wish to strike. One size very definitely does not fit all.?

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