Foreword by Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform
I am pleased to present our response to the report 'The management of wild deer in Scotland' by the Deer Working Group. The report which is underpinned by extensive research and detailed consideration by the members of the Group, has resulted in an in-depth and comprehensive report which addresses the many challenges facing deer management in Scotland today. I have been involved in legislation on deer management in Scotland for a long time, in fact since consideration of the 1996 Deer Act at Westminster, through significant milestones including the 2011 Wildlife and Natural Environment Act in the Scottish Parliament and the 2016 Land Reform Act. Throughout the last ten years or so, we have been on a journey to try and ensure that deer management is sustainable and that the public interest in safeguarding the environment is at the heart of deer management planning. We have also of course ensured that the important role that deer play in the rural economy is not overlooked, as well as being very conscious of the high value that we all place on deer as a symbol and important ecological element of the magnificent Scottish uplands and forests.
I think there can be no doubt that we have made significant progress over the last decade and this has been shown by the reports and assessments made by NatureScot (previously Scottish Natural Heritage) over the period. I am very grateful for the work of the Deer Management Groups who have collaborated, assessed impacts, planned and put plans into effect over the period. I must also mention the gamekeepers, gillies and other deer managers, both professional and recreational, who have worked hard to make plans a reality.
We all know however that the external circumstances are changing and changing fast and we recognise that now is the time to step-up our deer management work. The twin climate and biodiversity crises require a much greater urgency to our efforts to ensure sustainable deer management and we must recognise that more can and must be done to better realise our ambitious targets on vital issues such as forestry regeneration, woodland creation, peatland restoration and habitat improvement. I think it is clear to all now that protection of the massive and essential investments we are making in natural solutions to reduce carbon emissions and to enhance and restore biodiversity in Scotland have to be the main focus of our deer management policy.
While I make no apology for stressing the need for effective deer management, I do not overlook the importance of maintaining and improving standards of welfare for wild deer. The Report makes some very important recommendations in this regard. I should also like to add that the newly-established Scottish Animal welfare Commission has examined the recommendations of the Group and are broadly supportive of those which relate to deer welfare.
The Report sets out a wide range of sometimes complex recommendations for deer management systems across Scotland. The Report's recommendations are ambitious and developing and implementing a system of this nature will be complex. There are some aspects which will require further careful consideration and consultation. We recognise that there will be resource implications for colleagues in both the public and private sectors.
Some of the recommendations involve changes to practices and work on the ground, and we will seek to implement those as soon as is practicable. Others will require legislation we will look to bring forward the necessary changes during the course of the next Parliament.
We know we can rely on help from a wide range of experts and partners as we move forward in this area. Government action by itself cannot bring about the kind of change we need to see. To fully realise the policy aspirations in this report will require a collective effort, from across the public sector, non-government organisations and those with private interests in land management, and this is vital to ensuring that we leave no one behind.
Finally, I would like to thank the members of the Deer Working Group for their huge commitment to this work and their comprehensive consideration of deer management. The Group was chaired initially by Simon Pepper OBE until his death in September 2018 and I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge Simon's substantial contribution to the report and also his wider work in areas such as sustainable development and nature conservation. I would also like to thank Andrew Barbour, who took on the role of Acting Chair from September 2018 and supported the delivery of the final report. My thanks also extend to our wider stakeholders who have provided advice and shared their practical experience and expertise.