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Scottish landowners could be forced into deer culls

Sweeping new powers would allow NatureScot to impose more severe controls on deer numbers to ‘meet biodiversity and climate objectives'.

Scotland’s nature agency could have a greater say in the running of Scottish estates, under new plans proposed by ministers to restore nature. Private landowners could face compulsory culls on their estates if NatureScot deems that it would help nature restoration under sweeping new powers proposed by ministers. 

Lorna Slater, Green minister, revealed plans to give NatureScot greater powers to intervene in the running of estates and impose more severe controls on deer numbers. 

Officials have limited powers to impose culls to prevent, remedy and mitigate against damage caused by deer against trees and other plant life. However, Scottish ministers are proposing a new Deer Management Nature Restoration Order (DMNRO). This could be enacted where there are “significant gains to be made through meeting biodiversity and climate objectives through deer management”. 

Ms Slater added that deer controls are needed to achieve “targets on tree planting, woodland regeneration and peatland restoration”. 

A consultation on plans noted: “This approach requires a shift in balance between public and private interests.” The same consultation also proposed changes to the close season for female deer and the use of shotguns for culling deer. The close season for all types of female deer would be changed to 31 March to 30 September. It would also change legislation regarding the use of shotguns for culling deer. 

Nadia Flaherty, Scottish Land & Estates policy adviser on wildlife management, said: “Given the potentially significant financial liabilities for landowners, it must be made crystal clear in what circumstances ministers may seek to impose such an order. The subjectivity associated with this proposal in its current form leaves the door wide open to disproportionate and unreasonable decision-making.” 

BASC director for Scotland Peter Clark said the orders “raise significant concerns, given it would allow NatureScot to enter land under legally enforceable direction to conduct deer management activities where it deems necessary”. 

A spokesman for NatureScot told ST: “We welcome the Scottish government’s consultation on proposed new legislation to ensure deer management in Scotland is fit for purpose in the face of the twin biodiversity and climate crises. NatureScot is leading work to implement the recommendations of the independent Deer Working Group, accepted by the Scottish government. We are clear that the sustainable management of Scotland’s deer, including a significant reduction in numbers, is vital if we are to meet our ambitious and necessary targets to restore nature and reach net zero.”