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Scottish deer cull targets are ‘nonsense’, say stalkers

Deer numbers in certain areas of Scotland may soon be subject to a new limit, but those in the industry say figures are unachievable

Plans to limit red deer numbers across parts of Scotland have come under fire from estate managers and stalkers

A long-standing intention by the Scottish government to implement a limit of 10 red deer per square kilometre across parts of Scotland has come under fire from estate managers and stalkers. The Deer Working Group recommended as far back as 2019 that NatureScot adopted the figure as an upper benchmark for acceptable densities of the iconic species over large areas of open range in the Highlands.

A report commissioned by the Scottish government in 2020 estimated that there were around a million deer in Scotland, with densities ranging up to 20 deer per square kilometre. But most professionals agree that the deer population and density is now much higher than that, with some estimates putting it as high as 30 deer per square kilometre in certain areas.

ST contributor and Ayrshire-based deerstalker Chris Dalton explained: “It’s a highly divisive subject and there is a lot of bad feeling generally. The Scottish government — with its strings being pulled by the Green Party — are hell bent on massive grant-funded tree planting. This is fine to a degree, but in and among this policy deer are literally being classed as vermin and could be in danger of almost being eradicated.”

When asked if he thought a 10 deer per square kilometre limit was achievable, Chris told Shooting Times: “Maybe on some of the big Highland estates, but not in lowland Scotland; it’s nonsense. There are lots of small farms and there is multiple ownership of the land, some have deer management in place, others don’t, some won’t allow any shooting. It would be absolutely impossible for Scotland to achieve cross-land agreement in this situation.”

Donald Fraser, NatureScot Head of Wildlife Management told Shooting Times: “the Scottish Government made clear that adopting a blanket density limit across Scotland would not be appropriate. We recognise that impacts from deer occur at varying densities depending on habitat, location and time of year.”

However, Davy Thomas, estate manager at Black Corries, told ST: “I think the key point here is that this is coming, no matter what we think. It is perhaps the first move for NatureScot to dictate to us what they feel individual culls should be.”