The management of wild deer in Scotland: Deer Working Group report

The final report of the Deer Working Group.

Section 14 Agriculture and Forestry

1 This Section and Sections 15-19 consider the information available on the nature and extent of damage by deer to the interests covered by the regulatory powers to reduce damage by deer in the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996. The Group considers that the relatively limited information available on most of the interests other than designated natural sites, reflects the degree of focus on those sites by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), and its predecessor the Deer Commission for Scotland (DCS), as the public authority responsible for implementing the deer legislation.

2 The positions with agriculture and forestry are considered first, as the interests that have been covered since the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959. The interests added under the 1996 Act are then considered in the following Sections: public safety, the natural heritage, deer welfare and, lastly, the other interests that might be taken to be covered by the inclusive phrase “public interests of a social, economic or environmental nature” .[1]

14.1 Agriculture

3 The long history of conflict between agriculture and deer management in the Highlands due to the damage on crofts and hill farms caused by marauding red deer, was the principal factor leading to the 1959 Act. While the Act also included the protection of enclosed woodlands, the use that the Red Deer Commission (RDC) made of its regulatory powers continued to be mainly focused on trying to reduce the damage to agriculture by marauding red deer.[2]

4 Damage by deer to agriculture remained a key issue when the DCS took over under the 1996 Act and was a main objective in most of the s.7 Control Agreements that it established during its early years. However, by then, the expansion of both woodlands and deer populations meant that damage to agriculture by deer was a risk experienced much more widely in Scotland. This has continued to be the case.

5 There has never been a systematic approach to collecting and collating statistics on the extent of agricultural damage.[3] However, a number of authors have summarised the impacts of deer on agriculture that give rise to damage.[4] Red deer continue to be the most important species causing agricultural damage, together with fallow in some areas. As herding species, they can have a serious impact in a short time depending on their number. Roe deer can also be a particular issue on lowland agricultural land and are the main species causing damage to horticulture with its predominantly lowland distribution. However, red and fallow are also becoming increasingly important, with the risk of serious damage to the high value crops involved in horticulture (for example, orchards, soft fruits and market gardens).

6 The most common types of damage by deer to agricultural crops are to early season grass and cereals.[5] With cereals, the timing can be important in the significance of damage with grazing in the early stages of growth having a relatively small impact on field productivity, while a herd of red or fallow deer flattening the later stages of growth can result in major losses. Wild deer can also act as a constraint on options, for example, not growing root crops in some areas due to the high risk of damage or being unable to use feeding blocks in hill farming situations as they will be used by deer.

7 There is not a direct relationship between agricultural damage by deer and local densities of deer.[6] A range of other factors can be significant, including the proximity of crops to woodlands or other cover and the other feeding opportunities available to deer locally. In addition to direct physical damage by deer, there are also concerns over the health of livestock due to contact with deer and the risk of the transmission of diseases such as Tuberculosis, as well as increases in the number of ticks.[7]

8 The right of agricultural occupiers under the deer legislation to shoot deer on their land to prevent damage, has meant that deer can also be an economic resource for farmers and crofters. The RDC recognised in the late 1980s that the reduction in complaints that they were receiving from agricultural occupiers was not due to a reduction in damage being caused by deer, but a result of improved venison prices.[8]

9 With open hill red deer in the Highlands, stags are more likely to maraud onto agricultural land and the shooting of stags by tenant farmers and crofters continues to give rise to tensions with landlords in some areas.[9] More generally, there continues to be a lack of attention by some landlords to the concerns of agricultural tenants or crofters over damage by deer. This issue was covered in part in the Tenant Farming Commissioner’s recent Code of Practice.[10] However, the Code mainly focuses on game bird shooting and the Group considers that the position with deer should be given greater attention.

9 SNH, in considering agricultural damage by deer in its 2016 review, relies on Putman’s 2016 report to conclude that “Any impacts that do occur tend to be highly localised (e.g. a specific field in a specific area because it is close to a woodland strip)” and that “the effects of deer on agriculture are not of economic significance at a regional or national scale”.[11]

10 More generally, while SNH continues to deal with some particular cases of damage to agriculture by deer, it does not consider that there is a wider issue between agriculture and deer. SNH, in commenting on its regular contact with the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFU Scotland) and the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF), has reported that “rarely does deer emerge as a priority issue and it is usually ourselves who raise it, particularly in trying to assess the extent of damage to agriculture”.[12]

11 The Group considers, however, that SNH is not adequately recognising the extent of the

issues between agriculture and wild deer in much of Scotland. When the Group contacted NFU Scotland and SCF, the organisations consulted internally and the feedback described widespread problems with deer.[13] The SCF reported issues with red deer across the Highlands, and NFU Scotland, while commenting that the biggest issue with deer was in their Highland region, reported that the impacts of deer and particularly red deer “is becoming an increasing problem right across Scotland”.[14]

12 The Group considers that NFU Scotland and SCF responses indicate that there is a lack of clarity about complaining to SNH and a degree of scepticism about whether SNH will take any action in response. There also appears to be an element of the organisations not raising deer issues with SNH, because of the perceived lack of progress over so many years. The longstanding nature of the problem means that the organisations tend to have more immediate topics to discuss with SNH in liaison meetings.

13 The Group recognises that Priority 4 in ‘Wild Deer: A National Approach’ (WDNA) includes the aim of understanding more about the impacts of wild deer on agriculture. However, the Group considers that SNH should be placing greater emphasis on following this up than appears to be the case so far. The Group considers that SNH should have a clear perspective on the current extent of damage to agriculture in different parts of the country through contact with owners and occupiers in those areas.

14 The Group also considers that SNH should reassess its practice, as in its 2016 report quoted above, of describing damage by deer to agriculture as not significant regionally or nationally because it is localised. All damage by deer is ‘local’ and it appears clear that damage to agriculture is significantly more widespread across Scotland than SNH apparently recognises. The costs of damage to agriculture may be more difficult to estimate at a national level compared, for example, to forestry. However, the Group considers that damage by deer to agriculture is a national issue and should be recognised as that by SNH.

15 Recently, there has been a recommendation that the potential for including a question about deer impacts in the Scottish Government’s annual June Agricultural Census should be assessed as a way of gathering more information on the impacts of deer on agriculture.[15] The Census is sent to all agricultural holdings that complete a Single Application Form and a sample of smaller holdings. There is also an annual December Agricultural Survey based on data from larger holdings, which might be used for such a question.

16 In the early 2000s, the DCS arranged for a question about deer damage to be included in the June Census. The question was added, however, with no explanatory text and appeared to be largely ignored by those completing the form.[16] If a more successful approach was taken, the information provided would be subjective and not available at the level of individual holdings. However, the aggregated results from the question could be presented at civil parish and Local Authority scales to give an indication of the level of reports of damage in different parts of Scotland. If such a question was used on a regular basis, the results would show any trends in the reports of damage. There has been a question in the June Census since 2012 that asks ‘Any wild deer killed at this location within the last twelve months? (Y/N)’.

17 The Working Group recommends that Scottish Natural Heritage should take a far more focused approach to identifying the current extent of damage to agriculture by wild deer in different parts of Scotland and taking action to tackle the local issues involved.

14.2 Forestry

18 At the beginning of the 20th century, when deer forests in the Highlands for red deer stalking were at their greatest extent, the amount of woodland in Scotland was at its lowest recorded extent of less than 5% of the land area.[17] The Forestry Commission (FC) was then created as a government department in 1919, to increase Britain’s strategic timber reserves. The FC’s two main initial roles were, firstly, acquiring and planting land to establish government owned plantations and secondly, encouraging private sector planting.

19 The increase in Scotland’s tree cover since 1919 is illustrated in Figure 30 and also shown as a sequence of maps in Figure 3 in Section 2. The expansion of woodland over the last 100 years and particularly the last 50 years, has been a dominant factor in the spread and increase of wild deer in Scotland by providing them with additional habitat to colonise. Woodland is the natural or preferred habitat for each of Scotland’s four species of wild deer and the majority of wild deer in Scotland now live in woodland habitat.

20 Scottish Government policy is for continued woodland expansion, with the target of increasing Scotland’s woodland cover from the current 18.5% to 21% by 2032.[18] That target has been given added impetus because of the value of woodland creation as part of climate mitigation measures. However, the target of 21% is still low compared to the current average amongst European Union countries of 38% woodland cover with, for example, France, Germany, Italy and Spain all having over 30% woodland cover.[19]

21 The serious damage that wild deer can cause to young trees by browsing means that deer control through fencing and culling has been an important factor throughout the history of woodland expansion in Scotland and will continue to be in the creation of further new woodlands. The need for deer control within woodlands is similarly important to enable existing woodlands to be re-stocked or regenerated, as well as to avoid other forms of damage such as bark stripping on established trees. Deer control is also needed to minimise woodland deer causing damage on neighbouring lands, for example, through damage to agricultural crops or causing deer vehicle collisions on public roads.

Figure 30 Tree cover as a percentage of Scotland’s land area (1895-2011)
Year 1895 1947 1965 1995 2011
Percentage Tree Cover 4.5% 6.6% 8.2% 16.1% 18%

Source: Forestry Commission Scotland correspondence

22 The current relationship between forestry and deer management is considered below, after a brief background account of forest expansion and deer management in Scotland during the 20th century.

14.2.1 Background: 1919-1999

23 The expansion of FC plantations in the Highlands from 1919 marked the beginning of half a century of direct competition for land between plantation forestry and open hill red deer sporting interests.[20] As there was very little private sector planting during those decades, the issues that arose were between the FC and private estates. The area of new FC plantations had a disproportionate effect on red deer range because they were concentrated on red deer wintering grounds. The situation was also compounded by the sale by some estates of some of their own wintering grounds and a failure to adjust open hill red deer populations adequately for the loss of range.

24 By the time that the Red Deer Commission (RDC) was established by the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959, the relationship between plantation forestry and open hill red deer “was characterised by red deer dying in winter against plantation fences or mass breaking-ins of hundreds of deer”, and while the FC did attempt to drive deer out, “there were also large shoot-outs”.[21] In its first year, the RDC opened discussions with the FCbecause of the ‘drastic effect’ of the FC’s planting programme and the large backlog of situations that required to be resolved”.[22]

25 In the 1970s, the RDC was involved in encouraging reductions in the size of forestry enclosures, improved fence lines, better fence specifications and more attention to compensatory culls where red deer range was to be replaced by plantations. The FC also agreed from 1973 to consult the RDC on all forestry planting applications over 50 hectares in size in red deer range.[23] The early 1970s was the beginning of the expansion of investment driven plantation forestry in Scotland, which was very largely responsible for the substantial increase in woodland area by 1995 shown in Figure 30.

26 The RDC only started to take more interest in the management of the red deer populations that had become resident in plantations in the mid-1970s and, at that stage, began to collect cull return statistics from the FC and other forest managers for the first time.[24] Discussions involving the FC, RDC and others also resulted by the 1980s in guidance being produced on the internal design principles for plantations to facilitate deer control and reduce damage to trees by deer. The principles were not always then adopted in new plantations, while the new plantations from the 1970s were not due to be re-structured for many years.

27 The continuing expansion of red deer range during the 1970s and 1980s meant that deer fencing needed to be used in increasingly more parts of Scotland. In addition to the damage to plantations by red deer, the expansion in the distribution of sika deer gave rise to further issues of browsing and bark stripping. The need to control roe deer in plantations to reduce damage also started to receive greater attention. From the 1970s to the 1990s, there were a range of research projects on the ecology, population dynamics and impacts of woodland deer.[25]

28 The change of government forest policy away from a strategic timber reserve to multi-purpose forestry by the 1990s, also broadened the situations where deer control was needed. Policy developments included, for example, the introduction of the FC’s broadleaves policy to help diversify planting away from the heavy concentration on spruce forests, and the FC’s approach in Scotland from the start of the 1990s of encouraging the restoration and regeneration of existing native woodlands and the planting of new native woodlands.

29 The rate of woodland expansion slowed in the 1990s, after the UK Government reformed the tax system for forestry in 1988.[26] However, the expansion over previous decades meant that there was a need for deer management in and around woodlands across much of Scotland by the 1990s. The RDC’s responsibilities had been changed to cover all four species of wild deer in Scotland through the Deer (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 1982 and in 1994/95, the RDC with its headquarters in Inverness opened an office in Stirling with a team of staff covering the south of Scotland.[27]

30 While the RDC was replaced by the DCS under the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996, there were also changes affecting the FC in the 1990s. In the early 1990s, the FC’s two main functions under the Forestry Act 1967 were separated into the Forestry Authority, covering the FC’s regulatory and grant giving roles, and Forest Enterprise, as an FC agency responsible for managing the FC’s woodlands.

31 Then, under the Scotland Act 1998, forestry in Scotland was devolved to the new Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government in 1999. While the FC’s responsibilities under the Forestry Act 1967 were not devolved, agreement between the UK and Scottish Governments resulted in the Forestry Authority and Forest Enterprise operating in Scotland to implement Scottish Government policies. As a result, they were re-named Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) and Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES) in 2003.

32 Another consequence of devolution in 1999 was that the ownership of the land managed by the FC in Scotland, which had always been owned in the name of the Secretary of State for Scotland transferred to Scottish Ministers. This land managed by FES became identified as Scotland’s National Forest Estate (NFE).

33 The Group also notes at this point that the FC’s responsibilities in Scotland were eventually devolved under the Forestry and Land (Scotland) Act 2018, which repealed the Forestry Act 1967 in Scotland. When the Forestry and Land (Scotland) Act came into force on 1 April 2019, FCS and FES were converted into Scottish Forestry (SF) and Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) respectively as executive agencies of the Scottish Government. These identities, SF and FLS, are used below when describing forestry and deer management since devolution, starting with deer management on the NFE.

14.2.2 National Forest Estate

34 Scotland’s NFE covers approximately 640,000 hectares of woodland and open ground, which is equivalent to around 9% of Scotland’s land area.[28] The NFE includes 470,000 hectares of woodlands or 32% of the 1.5 million hectares of woodland in Scotland.[29] While Scotland’s woodland area consists of 74% conifers and 26% broadleaves, the NFE woodland area is approximately 90% conifers and 10% broadleaves.[30] The NFE includes approximately 40% of the coniferous woodland in Scotland and 10% of the broadleaved woodland.

35 Losses of revenue caused by damage to trees by deer and expenditure on deer control through culling and fencing, have been major costs throughout the development of the NFE and remain so. The main problem is damage by deer browsing young trees, which can prevent or delay sapling growth, Browsing can also deform trees, reducing their potential to produce commercial timber. Past studies have estimated, for example, that browsing of Sitka spruce can result in revenue losses of 3-4% and browsing of leading shoots in losses of 1-8% of revenue.[31] Recent evidence also indicates that repeated browsing of Sitka spruce can result in a revenue loss of 3-4%.[32]

36 Surveys on the NFE in 2013 showed that 15-20% of young trees on the NFE had been damaged by deer.[33] It was also reported that on the NFE between 2011 and 2013, around 11-12% of leading shoots suffered deer damage each year.[34] That damage impacts on timber production and other objectives. While timber production is still a major objective for FLS, the NFE is also managed by FLS for a wide range of other environmental, social and economic objectives aligned with Scottish Government policies.[35] FLS aims on NFE land for damage by deer to be less than 10% of leading shoots each year.[36]

37 FLS is involved in many different planting and regeneration schemes each year as part of meeting its objectives. In the five years 2014/15 to 2018/19, FLS planted or regenerated an average of over 7,000 hectares of woodland a year. This consisted of an average of 800 hectares of new woodland and 6,500 hectares of re-stocking existing woodland.[37] While FLS accounted for 11% of the new planting in Scotland during that period, FLS was responsible for over 66% of the re-stocking carried out.

38 The Group considers that FLS’s management of deer on the NFE to achieve its objectives, exemplifies a professional, evidence-based approach to deer management in a Scottish context. FLS has described the many different aspects to its approach in some detail in the 2014 publication ‘Deer Management on the National Forest Estate’.[38] The totals shown in Figure 31 for FLS’s annual net expenditure on deer management over the last five years, should be viewed in the context of the size of the NFE and the scale of FLS’s overall expenditure and income each year.[39]

Figure 31 Forestry and Land Scotland deer management costs (2014/15-2018/19)
  2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
£ £ £ £ £
Salaries 2,386,000 2,382,000 2,373,000 2,477,000 2,256,000
Vehicles, machinery and equipment 656,000 664,000 490,000 525,000 570,000
Admin* 791,000 631,000 931,000 727,000 1,035,000
Cash: deer other 3,047,000 2,954,000 3,274,000 3,463,000 3,422,000
Cash: deer fencing 121,000 391,000 112,000 453,000 239,000
Cash: deer shooting rates**       960,000 1,075,000
Depreciation 97,000 93,000 92,000 92,000 113,000
Total expenditure £7,098,000 £7,115,000 £7,272,000 £8,697,000 £8,710,000
Deer management income (1,778,00) (1,711,00) (1,679,000) (1,998,000) (1,746,000)
Deer management net (income)/expenditure £5,320,000 £5,404,000 £5,593,000 £6,699,000 £6,964,000

* Increase in Admin costs due to new accounting arrangements

** Sporting rates costs following the introduction of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016. FLS are looking to recoup these costs via the Empty Property Relief route.

Source: FLS correspondence with DWG, 16 August 2019

39 FLS aims to maintain sustainable, resident populations of deer on NFE land and minimise the use of fencing. To determine appropriate deer densities to meet its objectives in different situations and set cull targets each year to achieve those densities, FLS operates an iterative process that involves systematically monitoring a range of factors. These include tree damage assessments, habitat impact assessments and determining effective deer utilisation of land using dung count analysis, as well as other forms of information gathering. FLS generally aims to limit deer densities on NFE land to two to seven deer per 100 hectares.[40]

40 FLS carries out a substantial cull on NFE land each year, with the average cull density in 2012/13 being 4.6 deer per 100 hectares. FLS annual cull totals from 2008/09 to 2018/19 are shown in Figure 32, with FLS’s annual culls generally consisting of around 37-40% red deer, 48-51% roe deer, 10% sika deer and 2% fallow deer. FLS’s cull target for 2019/20 is 37,000 deer.[41]

Figure 32 Forestry and Land Scotland deer cull by species (2008/09-2018/19)
Figure 32 Forestry and Land Scotland deer cull by species (2008/09-2018/19)
Figure 32 Forestry and Land Scotland deer cull by species (2008/09-2018/19)
Year Red Roe Sika Fallow Total
2008/09 8,579 12,063 2,639 419 23,700
2009/10 11,523 12,315 2,775 332 26,945
2010/11 11,157 12,255 3,196 424 27,032
2011/12 10,633 13,254 3,247 408 27,542
2012/13 11,854 14,259 3,241 432 29,786
2013/14 11,695 14,705 3,183 528 30,111
2014/15 12,853 15,845 3,222 591 32,511
2015/16 11,429 15,651 2,830 614 30,524
2016/17 11,698 16,702 2,790 484 31,674
2017/18 14,793 17,973 3,698 643 37,107
2018/19 13,151 17,409 3,633 572 34,765

Source: FLS correspondence with DWG, 8 July 2019

41 FLS’s culls make a major contribution to deer control in Scotland, with its annual culls representing around 28-30% of the total deer cull recorded in Scotland each year. FLS annual culls generally account for around 15-20% of the total recorded red deer cull, 40% of the total roe deer cull, 45-50% of the total sika deer cull and 20-25% of the total fallow deer cull.

42 Research indicates that FLS managed to reduce the number of deer on NFE land by over 20% between 2001 and 2016.[42] However, damage by deer is still a problem on NFE land and FLS plans to review and refresh its deer management strategy to further reduce the impacts of browsing damage by deer.[43]

43 FLS has, as mentioned above, a systematic, evidenced-based approach to deer control on the NFE. However, a widespread challenge that FLS has to contend with in setting culls to achieve specified deer density targets, is the rate of influx of deer from neighbouring lands. The scale of this problem at a national level for FLS is not known, but long term monitoring at local levels shows “that in some places well over 50% of the annual cull comes from deer which have moved into the NFE from adjacent land”.[44]

44 The Group considers this dispersal of deer from other land into the NFE is indicative of a lack of adequate cull levels on those other lands, and that SNH should be investigating the most prominent cases with its responsibilities under the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996. The Group also considers that this is a widespread problem in Scotland which can affect other land owners trying to carry out adequate deer control. The Group considers, as discussed in later Parts of the Report, this situation reflects that Scotland does not have an effective system of deer management that adequately protects the interests of public and private land owners from damage by deer due to a lack of culling on other lands.

45 There are some deer shooting lets for recreational stalkers on NFE land, but they only account for a few percent of FLS’s annual culls. The great majority of FLS’s culls are carried out by FLS rangers and contract deer controllers, all of whom have Deer Stalking Certificate (DSC) Level 2 and other training. Over the years, FLS played a valuable role in increasing the pool of professional deer controllers in Scotland and in the development of both the DSC system and the guidance available through the Wild Deer Best Practice project.[45]

46 FLS’s culls also involve high standards of carcase handling and venison production. Over 90% of all deer culled on NFE land provide high quality venison for the food industry, with most of the remaining being deer carcases retained by recreational hunters.[46] FLS has helped improve standards of carcase handling more generally in Scotland, and has played a very important role in the development of both the Scottish Venison Partnership and the Scottish Wild Venison Quality Assurance Scheme.

47 The Group has not been in a position to review FLS’s deer management in detail, and the Group recognises that there can be occasions when FLS needs to respond to deer from NFE land causing damage on neighbouring land. However, the Group strongly supports FLS’s high standards of professional, evidence-based deer management to ensure the delivery of public policy objectives on the NFE. While FLS’s system will continue to be refined and developed, the Group considers that the value of FLS’s deer management on the NFE and FLS’s wider contribution to deer management more generally in Scotland, should both be adequately recognised by the Scottish Government.

14.2.3 Forestry Policy and Deer Management

48 Government forestry policy in Scotland has evolved over time. For many decades after 1919, the policy was driven by economic objectives until environmental objectives were added in the 1980s and then social objectives in the 1990s. Also in the 1990s, the UK and other European governments adopted the definition of sustainable forest management footnoted below that has been central to the Scottish Government’s forestry policy since devolution.[47] That policy is currently represented by the Scottish Forestry Strategy (SFS) 2019-2029, with the Scottish Government agency Scottish Forestry responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Strategy.

49 There appear to be just two references to deer management in the text of the SFS. The first is in the section on ‘Strategic Drivers’ under the heading ‘Adaptation and Resilience’ and includes that “While wild deer and other herbivores are a valuable part of forest and woodland ecosystems, high numbers of animals can damage trees. This can be a challenge to successful woodland establishment, as can the presence of invasive species such as Rhododendron ponticum”.[48] The text concludes that “The sustainable management of wild deer populations, the protection of trees from herbivore browsing and the control of invasive species are therefore important aspects of resilience and sustainable forest management”.[49]

50 The second mention of deer management in the text of the SFS is under ‘Priorities for Action’, where it is stated that “Maintaining and enhancing biodiversity, in particular by using the recruitment of natural regeneration and improving mitigation of the risks posed by invasive non-native species, deer and other herbivores”.[50]

51 The Group recognises that other herbivores and invasive plants such as Rhododendron can be important issues in places. However, the Group considers the scale of the challenge that deer pose across Scotland to achieving the SFS objectives for the sustainable management of woodlands and the creation of new woodlands, is of a different order of magnitude. Indeed, the consultative draft for the SFS identified wild deer as one of the major risks to achieving the SFS’s economic, environmental and social objectives.

52 The management of wild deer by FLS on NFE land as part of delivering the public policy objectives of the SFS has been described above. However, around 988,000 hectares or 68% of Scotland’s 1.5 million hectare woodland area is privately owned.[51] These woodlands consist of 56% conifer woodland and 35% broadleaved woodland. The private sector is also responsible for the majority of new woodland established, accounting for 31,250 hectares or nearly 90% of the 35,320 hectares of new planting in Scotland in the five years 2014/15 to 2018/19. The private sector also carries out a third of the re-stocking or regeneration of existing woodlands, with the proportion steadily increasing.

53 Private sector woodlands belong to a wide range of different types of owners, but there is a lack of information on woodland ownership in Scotland. One study indicated that a very high proportion of private woodlands belong to private estates and forestry investors, with the average size of forest holdings in Scotland of 259 hectares being several times larger than the average size in 20 other European countries.[52]

54 There appears, as discussed further below, to be little information available on the abundance or densities of deer in private woodlands.[53] There also appears to be a lack of published information on the impacts of deer in these woodlands, other than those covered by the Scottish Forestry’s landmark Native Woodland Survey of Scotland (NWSS).[54]

55 The NWSS, which was published in 2014, assessed 311,153 hectares of native woodland or around 20% of Scotland’s woodland area, and is discussed further in Section 16. The survey found that deer were a significant presence in 73% of the native woodland areas and that 33% of the woodland area had high or very high browsing impacts that are considered too high for the woods to be able to survive by natural regeneration.[55]

56 Scottish Forestry also has herbivore impact survey data from the National Forest Inventory, which is assessed on a five year cycle. This uses the same methodology as the NWSS, but involves a network of sample plots rather than a walkthrough of an entire woodland area. The National Forest Inventory work therefore provides a sample based assessment of deer impacts across all types of woodland.[56] However, the Group is not aware of any published analysis of that information.

57 Scottish Forestry, as the regulator of the forestry sector, uses the UK Forest Standard (UKFS) to inform forest planning and forestry application decisions relating to all forests and woodlands. The UKFS has, however, little mention of standards of deer management. The one reference to deer management in UKFS is the general forestry practice guideline (21) that states: “in areas where deer are a threat, develop and monitor deer management plans - ideally in cooperation with neighbours and local deer management groups”.[57]

58 The position is similar for standards of deer management with forest certification under the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme (UKWAS). The management of all NFE woodlands and, in 2018, 363,000 hectares or 37% of private woodland is independently audited under UKWAS.[58] The limited reference to deer management in the current UKWAS standard is that “Management of wild deer shall be based on a strategy that identifies the management objectives, and aims to regulate the impact of deer”, with the additional provisions that “This requirement may involve the setting of cull targets and should involve the membership of a Deer Management Group where appropriate”.[59]

59 Scottish Forestry does, however, require 20 year Forest Plans as part of forestry applications for larger managed woods and these Plans generally need to include a Deer Management Plan (DMP). As a result, most privately owned forest properties in Scotland larger than 100 hectares are covered by a DMP approved by Scottish Forestry. This involves approximately 1,200 woodlands covering over 500,000 hectares.[60]

60 Scottish Forestry monitors deer management in all cases where Forest Plans have involved forestry grants, including for the preparation of a DMP. Monitoring is carried out by assessing annual returns on culls and impact monitoring. Each year, a sample of cases are physically inspected on the ground and deer management will be considered at the five year reviews involved in Forest Plans, if deer impacts are affecting the delivery of a Forest Plan. Scottish Forestry is not only concerned with the impacts of deer on trees, but also their impacts on ground vegetation and the development of a healthy environment.

61 The Forest Plan system has been operating for over 10 years and it might be expected, given the large area of woodlands covered the Plans, that Scottish Forestry would have built up a substantial amount of information on deer impacts and deer management in woodlands in Scotland over 100 hectares. However, no information or analysis of such information appears to have been published by Scottish Forestry.

62 The Group’s view is that Scottish Forestry has not paid enough attention over the years to the standards of Forest Plan DMPs and the impacts of deer in and around the woodlands involved, unless those impacts were limiting the delivery of an aspect of the Plan supported by grant aid. However, the Group notes that Scottish Forestry has started in recent years “to look for higher quality and better evidenced DMPs that are consistent with the delivery of other management objectives and proposals”.[61]

63 The Group considers that there is a need for improved information on the standards of deer management in the larger private sector commercial conifer plantations in Scotland, including the deer impacts in and around these woodlands. The indications from the Group’s investigations are that the deer densities in these plantations are generally higher than on NFE land and that the cull densities are lower. The densities of roe deer can be very high in some plantations, particularly in lowland agricultural areas.

64 Limited culling in plantations can be particularly the case once plantations are established and there is no re-stocking due for some years. High densities of deer in woodlands can result in the deer causing damage of neighbouring agricultural land and woodlands, deer vehicle collisions on public roads, and deer dispersing on to other lands. In the previous Section, the Group mentioned patterns of ‘source and sink’ populations, with deer dispersing from the source area to the sink areas [62]

65 The need to re-stock plantations after some or all of a plantation has been felled, poses the question for owners and managers of whether to reduce deer densities adequately or incur a significant cost from deer fencing the felled area.[63] Increased culling to lower the density of deer for re-stocking also usually has to deal with a reproductive response from the deer.[64] The evidence from the NFE shows that, as the density of deer is reduced, calving and recruitment rates amongst the deer increase.[65] The level of deer control can also need to be greater where continuous cover forestry is used, rather than the traditional clearfell approach of forestry in upland Scotland.

66 Another factor in these situations is tree species choice. As Scottish Forestry has commented, “anecdotal evidence strongly suggests tree species choices are influenced by the potential impact deer could cause: less palatable species are planted in preference to palatable species where the potential for high losses or damage from deer impact is anticipated”.[66] The most resilient species against deer browsing is Sitka spruce, which already accounts for just under 60% of all coniferous woodland in Scotland.

67 Sitka spruce and Norway spruce also currently account for 55% of softwood production in Scotland and this is expected to increase to nearly 70% by 2030.[67] These species are an important economic resource, but an over-reliance on them creates vulnerability to the arrival of new tree pests and diseases, as well as to the effects of climate change. This is at odds with the SFS aim of increasing the resilience and adaptability of Scotland’s forests.

68 Deer and the damage they can cause by browsing young trees is a particular challenge for creating new woodlands, with the Scottish Government’s current target of 10,000 hectares of new woodland per year increasing to 12,000 hectares per year from 2020/21, 14,000 hectares per year from 2022/23 and 15,000 hectares per year from 2024/25.[68] The widespread risk of damage by deer means that most new woodlands need to be protected by deer fencing.

69 The Scottish Government’s new woodland targets include the aim of creating 3,000-5,000 hectares of new native woodland per year. In 2018/19, when the Scottish Rural Development Programme budget for creating new woodland was £37 million and 11,200 hectares of new woodland were created, 40% of the area consisted of native species.[69] These species are particularly vulnerable to deer damage compared to non-native conifers and new native woodlands generally need to be protected by deer fencing, although there is a gradually increasing list of examples where native woodlands have been regenerated and expanded by deer control rather than fencing.[70]

70 Until 2003, forestry grants in Scotland were the same as those in England and Wales. However, since then, the devolution of forestry has enabled the Scottish Government and Scottish Forestry to design forestry grant schemes bespoke to the circumstances in Scotland. This had included greater recognition of the importance of deer control.

71 In the four financial years 2015-19, Scottish Forestry spent £18.7 million on grants to reduce deer impacts on forestry.[71] The grants available cover a range of deer management activities including, for example, the preparation of DMPs. However, just over £13 million or 70% of the grant expenditure in the last five years has gone on erecting, modifying or enhancing deer fences.

72 Scottish Forestry’s current average grant expenditure on reducing the impacts of deer on forestry is £4.7 million a year. That annual amount is over three times the total of around £1.5 million that SNH spends on deer management each year as the deer authority under the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996, with responsibilities for implementing the Act and reducing the damage by deer to public interests.

73 Deer management is a part of forestry. However, the current levels of deer densities across much of Scotland add extra costs in existing woodlands and creating new woodlands through damage to trees, deer fencing and net culling costs. There are no overall estimates for the annual costs of deer damage and deer control to forestry in Scotland.[72] However, as SNH has commented, available information suggests that if deer densities were lower across much of Scotland, the benefits arising from deer could be largely maintained and many of the costs reduced.[73]

74 Scottish Forestry aims to see a significant increase in the intensity of deer management in forestry across Scotland in order to reduce populations and high levels of impacts.[74] However, Scottish Forestry only has limited means by which it can try to achieve that, such as Forest Plan DMPs and grants for certain purposes. As Scottish Forestry recognises, deer impacts and the effectiveness of wider approaches to deer management are amongst the most important factors that threaten the successful delivery of the SFS.[75]

75 The Scottish Government’s SFS is intended to deliver a wide range of economic, environmental and social public benefits, and has added significance because of its role as part of the Scottish Government’s climate change mitigation measures. The Group considers, however, that the difficulties in implementing the SFS due to the numbers and damaging impacts of wild deer, exemplify the shortcomings in the current statutory and non-statutory arrangements for the management of wild deer in Scotland that are discussed in this Report.

76 The Group’s remit from the Scottish Government is to “make recommendations for changes to ensure effective deer management in Scotland that safeguards public interests and promotes the sustainable management of wild deer”.[76] Later in the Report, the Group discusses the refocused non-statutory approach and improved deer legislation that the Group considers are needed to fulfil its remit. The Group considers that the Scottish Government needs to recognise the importance of such changes to the implementation of its own Scottish Forestry Strategy over the next 10 years.

77 The Working Group recommends that the Scottish Government should recognise much more fully than at present, the need for changes to the current statutory and non-statutory system for the management of wild deer in Scotland if the Scottish Forestry Strategy 2019-29 is to be implemented successfully.


1 This phrase was added to s.7 of the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 by the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011.

2 See Section 22 for discussion of the RDC’s use of s.6 of the 1959 Act.

3 SNH (1994) Red deer and the natural heritage; Callander, R. and MacKenzie, N. (1991). The Management of Wild Red Deer in Scotland. Rural Forum, Scotland.

4 For example: Putman, R. (2012), Scoping the economic benefits and costs of wild deer and their management in Scotland, SNH Commissioned Report No. 526; and the material reviewed in Holland, J. et al. (2016), Meeting the challenge of wild deer research to support delivery of sustainable deer management in Scotland, SNH Commissioned Report No. 963.

5 Putman (2012) Op cit.

6 Putman (2012) Op cit.

7 See Section 10 on Wild Deer and Diseases.

8 Callander and MacKenzie (1991) Op cit.

9 SCF correspondence with DWG, April 2018.

10 Scottish Land Commission (2017). Code of Practice - The Management of Relationships between Agricultural Tenants and the Holder of Sporting Rights.

11 SNH (2016). Deer Management in Scotland: Report to the Scottish Government from SNH, p. 48.

12 DWG meeting with SNH, 13 March 2018.

13 DWG correspondence with NFU Scotland (17 September 2018) and SCF (17 April 2018).

14 DWG correspondence with NFU Scotland, Op cit.

15 McMorran R., Gibson-Poole, S. and Hamilton, A. (2019). Lowland deer management: assessing the delivery of public interests. SNH Research Report No. 1069.

16 Information known directly by the Group.

17 See Figure 30.

18 Scottish Government (2019). Scotland’s Forestry Strategy 2019-2029.

19 Scottish Government (2019) Op cit.

20 Callander, R. and MacKenzie, N. (1991). The Management of Wild Red Deer in Scotland. Rural Forum, Scotland.

21 Callander and MacKenzie (1991) Op cit, p.29.

22 Callander and MacKenzie (1991) Op cit, p.29.

23 Callander and MacKenzie (1991) Op cit. This continued into the early 2000s.

24 Callander and MacKenzie (1991) Op cit.

25 For example, see Scott, D., Bacon P. and Irvine, J. (2002), Management of Deer in Woodlands: Literature reviews of woodland design, and techniques for assessing populations and damage. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology report for the Deer Commission for Scotland.

26 Scottish Forestry briefing to DWG, July 2019.

27 Red Deer Commission Annual Report, 1994.

28 Forestry and Land Scotland Corporate Plan, 2019-22.

29 Forest Research Forestry Statistics, 2019.

30 Forest Research Forestry Statistics, 2019.

31 Gill, R. (2000). The Impact of Deer on Woodland Biodiversity. Forest Research Information Note 036.

32 Scottish Forestry briefing to DWG, July 2019.

33 Scottish Parliament Daily Written Answers, S4W17137, 25 September 2013.

34 Forestry Commission Scotland (2014). Deer Management on the National Forest Estate. Current Practice and Future Directions,
1 April 2014 to 31 March 2017.

35 Forestry and Land Scotland Corporate Plan, 2019-22.

36 Forestry Commission Scotland (2014) Op cit.

37 Forestry Commission Scotland (2014) Op cit.

38 Forestry Commission Scotland (2014) Op cit.

39 Forest Enterprise Scotland Annual Report and Accounts 2017-18

40 Forestry Commission Scotland (2014) Op cit.

41 FLS correspondence with DWG, 8 July 2019.

42 Campbell, D., Marchbank, M., Watson, M. and Quin, S. (2017). Trends in woodland deer abundance across Scotland: 2001-2016. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 948

43 Forestry and Land Scotland Corporate Plan, 2019-22.

44 Campbell et al. (2017) Op cit, p.35.

45 The Wild Deer Best Practice project is discussed in Section 25.

46 Scottish Forestry briefing to DWG, July 2019.

47 “The stewardship and use of forests lands that maintains biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and potential to fulfil now and in the future relevant ecological, economic and social functions at local, national and global levels and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems

48 Scottish Government (2019). Scotland’s Forestry Strategy 2019-2029, p.23.

49 Scottish Government (2019) Op cit.

50 Scottish Government (2019) Op cit, p.33.

51 Forest Research Forestry Statistics, 2019.

52 Forest Policy Group (2011). Forest Ownership in Scotland: A Scoping Study.

53 SNH (2016). Deer Management in Scotland: Report to the Scottish Government from SNH, October 2016.

54 Forestry Commission Scotland (2014). Scotland’s Native Woodlands: Results from the Native Woodland Survey of Scotland.

55 Forestry Commission Scotland (2014) Op cit.

56 Scottish Forestry briefing to DWG, July 2019.

57 Scottish Forestry briefing to DWG, July 2019.

58 Scottish Forestry briefing to DWG, July 2019.

59 UKWAS Standard, 4th Edition, 2018.

60 Scottish Forestry briefing to DWG, March 2019.

61 Scottish Forestry briefing to DWG, March 2019.

62 For example, Wäber, KJ., Spencer, J. and Dolman, P.M. (2013). Achieving landscape-scale deer management for biodiversity conservation: The need to consider sources and sinks. Journal of Wildlife Management, 77(4), pp.726-736.

63 A range of variables affect the cost of erecting a deer fence, including the size of the area to be enclosed, the specification for the fence, the nature of the terrain, the accessibility of the site and the availability of grants. Previous studies have suggest that deer fencing can cost 10-30% of total revenue (Gill et al. 2000 Op cit).

64 Putman, R., Nelli, L. and Matthiopoulos, J. (2019). Changes in bodyweight and productivity in resource-restricted populations of red deer (Cervus elaphus) in response to deliberate reductions in density. European Journal of Wildlife Research, 65 (13).

65 SNH (2016) Op cit.

66 Scottish Forestry briefing to DWG, March 2019.

67 Mason, W.L., MacDonald, F., Parratt, M. and McLean, J.P. (2018). What alternative tree species can we grow in western Britain?
85 years of evidence from the Kilmun forest garden. Scottish Forestry 72 (1), pp.24 -33.

68 Scottish Government (2019) Op cit.

69 Scottish Forestry briefing to DWG, July 2019.

70 See Section 16.

71 Scottish Forestry briefing to DWG, July 2019.

72 Scottish Forestry briefing to DWG, July 2019.

73 SNH (2016) Op cit.

74 Scottish Forestry briefing to DWG, July 2019.

75 Scottish Forestry briefing to DWG, July 2019.

76 DWG Terms of Reference (September 2017).



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