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

The final report of the Deer Working Group.

Section 19 Other Public Interests

1 Sections 13-16 have described damage by wild deer to the interests covered in the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 in the order that they were added to Scotland’s deer legislation. The Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 (‘the WANE(S) Act’) also added a further very broad category of damage to the 1996 Act: “damage to public interests of a social, economic or environmental nature ”. This was inserted into s.7 Control Agreements and subsequently also included in the new s.6A Deer Management Plans when that was added by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016.

2 This additional broad category of damage appears to have been added for flexibility to deal with public interests that might not be covered by the other types of damage identified in the 1996 Act. The WANE(S) Act also amended s.16 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 for that reason to include a new similarly worded licensable purpose “for any other social, economic or environmental purpose”.

3 At present, damage to public interests of a social, economic or environmental nature only applies under two of Scottish Natural Heritage’s (SNH) regulatory powers under the 1996 Act (ss.6A and 7). The case for including this category of damage in SNH’s other regulatory power (s.10) and its powers to grant night shooting and out of season authorisations (ss.5(6) and 18(2)), is argued elsewhere in this Report.[1] However, the phrase illustrates that the deer legislation should be able to protect all types of public interests from damage from deer. An example of this mentioned in the Code of Practice on Deer Management is the protection of cultural heritage interests rather than just natural heritage interests.[2]

4 An important land use that can be affected by deer damage and which has generally not been covered by the deer legislation, is land managed for recreational, amenity and related purposes. This includes golf courses and other sports grounds, parks, gardens and other uses, such as graveyards.

5 These types of land uses occur widely in Scotland and the hunting rights that go with the ownership of land mean that wild deer can be shot on them where it is safe to do so. However, recreational and amenity lands are most commonly associated with settlements and are most frequent in urban and peri-urban areas. In these types of environments, particular issues can arise where deer numbers need to be controlled.

6 Urban areas are considered in this context to be the centres and suburbs of cities, towns and other conurbations.[3] Peri-urban areas are transitional areas around settlements and are characterised by a mosaic of mixed land uses, often including housing, transport infrastructure, industry, farm land, woodlands, and amenity and recreational lands.[4]

7 While the Central Belt is conspicuously the most extensive area of urban and peri-urban land in Scotland, there has been growing concern over recent decades about increasing wild deer numbers in these types of areas more generally because of the damage they can cause. Roe deer now tend to occur throughout peri-urban areas and many settlements in Scotland, and are increasingly colonising all of Scotland’s cities and other main urban areas. Fallow deer also occur in some peri-urban areas, while the expansion of the range of red deer means that they are also starting to occur in some peri-urban areas.

8 The concern over this situation resulted in “the need to manage the deer population in urban and peri-urban areas” being added by the WANE(S) Act 2011 to the list of factors in s.1(2) of the 1996 Act. These are factors which SNH has to take into account in particular circumstances as appropriate under the legislation. The challenges involved in controlling deer numbers in these types of environments compared to the wider countryside, are discussed below.

19.1 Peri-Urban Areas

9 The mosaic of land uses in peri-urban areas means that roe deer can cause damage to a range of different interests in many locations. This can include agriculture and commercial horticulture as well as woodlands managed for economic and environmental purposes. There is also a higher risk of road traffic accidents involving deer due to the concentration of road networks and greater flows of traffic. Damage can also occur to publically important sites such as parks and public gardens, graveyards and golf courses, as well as private gardens.

10 A study commissioned by the Deer Commission for Scotland (DCS) in 2007 into the management of roe deer in peri-urban Scotland, which based its case studies in the Central Belt, also identified other concerns.[5] These included the possible intake of toxins by deer, the spread of diseases including Lyme disease through ticks, and the risk of ‘acts of cruelty’ to deer through the use of inappropriate firearms or dogs.[6]

11 Deer fencing can be used to protect interests from damage in some situations. However, the control of roe deer numbers in peri-urban areas to limit their adverse impacts adequately, relies on culling. This is generally more difficult than in the wider countryside. The greater development in peri-urban areas means that the patterns of land ownership tend to be smaller scale and therefore larger areas where it may be safe to shoot deer with high velocity rifles more limited. An additional safety issue is that the presence of people in woodlands and open areas for walks and other recreational purposes can also be higher and widespread.

12 A further factor that is highlighted by the DCS study and other reports, is the need to engage with local residents and communities in peri-urban areas where deer culling is to be carried out.[7] The greater density of people and less familiarity with deer management in peri-urban areas, means that local engagement tends to be more important than in the wider countryside to minimise issues that can arise out of people’s concern that deer are being shot. The local engagement needs to start sufficiently before the culling, to provide scope to discuss concerns that there might be.

13 People tend to enjoy seeing wild deer and may resent seeing them shot by hunters, if they have little awareness of the need to control deer to limit deer vehicle collisions (DVCs) and other damage, including the risk of Lyme disease. The evidence from existing studies and wider experience is that people are more likely to accept culling if they have a better understanding of why the deer control is being carried out.[8]

14 The local engagement can be by deer hunters in the areas where they are operating and the need for engagement is identified in the Wild Deer Best Practice (WDBP) guidance on Deer in Towns. Also, following a recommendation from SNH’s Authorisations Review Panel in 2016, fuller guidance on interacting with the public is due to be added to the WDBP guides in 2018/19.[9]

15 There have also been some positive educational initiatives to promote public awareness and understanding of deer management in peri-urban areas.[10] The need for further such initiatives, whether aimed at the general public or more targeted audiences, has recently been endorsed in the Lowland Deer Panel report.[11] However, the Panel also noted some of the challenges involved in designing effective educational initiatives.

16 The requirement for further training and education programmes related to deer in and around towns is also identified in Wild Deer: A National Approach (WDNA).[12] Amongst other measures, a need for better knowledge of the influence of improving habitat networks in these types of areas on local deer populations is also identified. The on-going work of the Central Scotland Green Network Trust is a prominent example of this.[13]

17 The particular challenges of controlling wild deer numbers in peri-urban areas emphasises that a key strategic requirement for effective deer control in these areas, is to ensure adequate culling in adjoining areas of wider countryside. In some areas, this will involve targeting red deer and fallow deer to restrict any movement of these larger species into peri-urban areas.[14] However, more generally, the need is to manage the densities of roe at levels that limit ongoing dispersal of roe deer into the peri-urban area each year as a result of under-culling in the adjoining areas.

18 The Group considers that SNH should be implementing this strategy in an increasing number of locations on a prioritised basis. The Group considers that SNH should take a systematic approach in each location, including identifying likely corridors for deer movement and establishing the pattern of culling in both the cordon of land around a peri-urban area and the area itself using the statutory cull return system.

19 With this type of approach, SNH can monitor both the levels of culls relative to habitat types and other indicators of deer densities, while engaging with owners and occupiers to advise on cull levels where necessary using an adaptive management approach in response to the available information.[15] It would also facilitate a proactive rather than reactive approach, which should help to avoid conflicts that are difficult to resolve without significant expense and multi-agency involvement.[16] The area covered by SNH’s current Lowland Deer Management Project incorporates peri-urban areas with wider countryside beyond them and that project and the type of locality approach proposed here are discussed further later in the Report.

20 There is no specific definition of land that is ‘peri-urban’, for example, in terms of a particular proportion of built-up land within a location, and areas that might be considered peri-urban can potentially be very varied in their character and circumstances. In some areas, the management of deer levels on National Forest Estate or Local Authority land may play an important role.

21 There may or may not be established patterns of local deer hunters operating in a peri-urban area. However, the Group considers that SNH should, as the deer authority, have a sufficiently clear overview of current deer management in each area to be able to respond to issues over adverse impacts by deer. While this might be to limit DVCs or damage by deer to land use interests, an important target should be to manage roe deer densities at levels that limit the dispersal of deer into any adjoining urban areas.

19.2 Urban Areas

22 Roe deer have extensively colonised urban areas in Scotland, living in green spaces that provide suitable cover in the built-up environment. The deer can cause significant damage to trees and other vegetation in public parks and gardens, other recreational and amenity grounds, graveyards and other green spaces including household gardens. There is also a high risk of deer being involved in DVCs because of the volumes of traffic in urban areas.

23 Another public safety concern with the growing numbers of roe deer in urban areas, is ticks from the deer increasing the risk of Lyme disease, including ticks using pet dogs and cats as hosts. In addition, there can be animal welfare concerns as the physical condition of deer established in urban areas tends to be poor compared to other areas.[17] While roe deer appear to adapt to living in urban areas, these areas might be generally considered a stressful environment for wild deer.

24 The difficulties of culling roe deer in the densely built-up environment of urban areas means that effective deer control in these environments requires adequate control in adjoining peri-urban areas to limit ongoing dispersal of deer into the urban areas.[18] This essential requirement needs to be ongoing each year. The approach also needs to be strategic with, for example, the control in a peri-urban area focused where there are any corridors of suitable habitat along which roe deer can move into the urban (such as a water course with wooded banks).

25 SNH should, as with the wider countryside around peri-urban areas, be monitoring culls around urban areas to ensure adequate culls are being carried out. The fact that the occurrence of deer in urban areas in continental European countries appears to be significantly less of an issue than in the UK, may be due to longer established culling patterns in the surrounding areas.[19]

Figure 39 Indicators of deer welfare in wild deer
1 Pelvic body condition score of yearlings
2 Normal mobility, freedom from debility, injury, disease
3 Mortality rate
4 Normal activity, evidence of lethargy, sluggishness
5 Toleration of close approach or handling
6 Social interaction
7 Foraging behaviour and appetite
8 Kidney and coronary groove fat deposits of yearlings
9 Bullet placement in carcases

Source: Green (2016)

26 The Working Group recommends that Scottish Natural Heritage should be implementing a strategic approach to limiting ongoing dispersal by deer into both peri-urban areas from the wider countryside and urban areas from peri-urban areas, selecting target areas on a prioritised basis.

27 The challenge of culling deer in urban areas using rifles that can be lethal over hundreds of metres, has led to the investigation of alternative methods of removing deer to limit their numbers and damage. This has particularly been the case in the USA, where urban deer are an issue. The methods have included immuno-contraception, immobilisation and trapping, whether with nets or in an enclosure. While each method may have some application in specific and limited circumstances, they each have very major limitations and the approach in the USA continues to be based on culling with ‘sharpshooters’.[20]

28 The use of enclosures to trap fallow deer may be an option in a few particular situations in the UK, while the use of nets might be effective to catch muntjac in some circumstances where they occur.[21] However, the essential method of deer control in urban areas in Scotland and the rest of the UK involves culling deer using suitably skilled and experienced marksmen.[22] The Group considers that there should be a clear expectation in Scotland that such a marksman would hold a Deer Stalking Certificate Level 2.[23]

29 The question arises whether there should be a specific qualification for shooting deer in urban areas in Scotland to reflect a certain level of training and competence. However, circumstances are very varied and the Group considers that the onus should be on the land owner or other person responsible for having a cull carried out to satisfy themselves that the marksman they plan to use is suitably skilled and experienced for the local context.

30 A core issue in urban areas is the limited availability of sites where deer can be shot safely, given the density of the built environment. Many of the suitable green spaces are likely be owned and managed by the Local Authority, for example, parks and graveyards.[24] However, there may also be areas owned by other public sector bodies. In Scotland’s cities, for example, these areas will include the corridors of land owned by Network Rail as part of the railway network. In addition, there are significant areas of privately owned green space in some cities and other urban settlements. There may also be privately owned ‘brown field’ sites, some of which may be colonised by vegetation and provide cover for roe deer before the sites are re-developed.

31 Local Authorities can be considered well positioned to have a lead role in deer management in Scotland’s main urban areas. Their ownership and management of green spaces means they will be aware of deer damage to these sites and potentially have the scope to control deer numbers. Their responsibilities for roads means they are aware of DVCs and their involvements more generally, mean they should be able to develop an overview of the position with deer in an urban area.[25] They can also take account of deer management in development planning.

32 In addition, while residents and other property owners may use the Local Authority as a first point of contact to raise an issue involving deer, the existing links between Local Authorities and communities in their area mean they should be well-positioned to undertake the local engagement that should occur where culling is to be carried out. An adverse local reaction to culling without adequate consultation is a risk to which Local Authorities are likely to be sensitive, because of the issues that have arisen in some places.[26]

33 SNH also needs to be involved in the management of deer in urban areas for its responsibilities under the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996, including those involving public safety, deer welfare and damage to other interests. However, the use of SNH’s regulatory powers in the Act might be expected to be unnecessary on land managed by Local Authorities and other public bodies, as s.3(3) of the 1996 Act requires public bodies to have regard to any guidance or advice issued to them by SNH. This requirement does not apply to all the privately owned sites where deer occur in urban areas.

34 The need to control deer in urban areas occurs in a significantly different context than in other areas. In urban areas, the density of properties and limited opportunities to shoot deer make the link in property law between land ownership and deer hunting rights more impractical and less relevant. There is also a need for a co-ordinated overview of deer numbers across a potentially wide variety of sites and there may be a need to be able to make use of all or most sites where deer can be culled safely, as well as other factors such as local engagement in all cases. These types of considerations suggest that, in some circumstances, there might be benefits in having a single body, the Local Authority, responsible for all deer management over all or part of a particular urban area.[27]

35 The notion of that type of ‘regulated area’ in a particular defined urban area where the Local Authority is given responsibility for carrying out the deer management, might be seen as an alternative, urban-tailored measure to the s.8 ‘control areas’ in the existing legislation. Such a measure would not, for example, remove the hunting rights of property owners in the area. Instead, they could require a licence from the Local Authority to shoot deer to ensure all safety and consultation requirements will be met, while the Local Authority could have the authority to cull deer on properties not covered by a licence, subject to notifying the owner.

36 While the Group can envision the types of provisions that would be required in a section of the deer legislation to set out an appropriate process to establish such a ‘regulated area’ with the agreement of a Local Authority and appropriate consultation, the Group does not consider creating such a measure to be a realistic or practical proposition as things stand. The role of Local Authorities in deer management more generally is considered in Part Six of the Report.

37 The Group does consider, however, that deer management in urban areas should be given increasing attention. The scale of the current issues in these areas might be considered limited compared to issues in the wider countryside, but the more direct social concerns involved add to the importance of the issues.

38 SNH has the lead public sector responsibility for ensuring that wild deer in urban areas are managed appropriately to safeguard public interests and they are already involved in a number of areas. However, the Group considers that SNH should have a more focused approach towards achieving this. This should involve both building on SNH’s current work with individual Local Authorities to making greater progress with deer control in urban areas more generally. This should include implementing a strategic approach to deer control in adjoining peri-urban areas to limit the movement of more deer into urban areas, as recommended above.

39 The Working Group recommends that the Scottish Government should ensure that increasing attention is focused on implementing effective deer management in peri-urban and urban areas to limit damage to public interests, and that Scottish Natural Heritage adopts a more focused approach towards achieving this.


1 See Section 1.

2 SNH (2011). Code of Practice on Deer Management, p.12.

3 See, for example, Lowland Deer Panel Report to SNH (February 2019); and Watson, R., Putman, R.J. and Green, P. (2009). Methods of control of wild deer appropriate for use in the urban environment in England. Deer Initiative Report.

4 Dandy, N., Ballantyne, S., Moseley, D., Gill, R. and Quine, C. (2009). The management of roe deer in peri-urban Scotland: Final Report. Forest Research.

5 Dandy et al. (2009) Op cit.

6 See Section 10.

7 Dandy et al. (2009) Op cit; Lowland Deer Panel Report (2019) Op cit.

8 Dandy et al. (2009) Op cit; Lowland Deer Panel (2019) Op cit; Brown, G. (2018). An investigation into the environmental damage caused by roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) and social perception of high deer density within peri-urban Aberdeen. BSc thesis, SRUC/University of Glasgow.

9 SNH Information Response 32

10 For example, the Lowland Deer Network Scotland project ‘Deer on your Doorstep’, and Forestry and Land Scotland’s video on ‘Deer Management on the National Forest Estate’.

11 Lowland Deer Panel (2019) Op cit.

12 SNH (2014). Scotland’s Wild Deer: A National Approach, including 2015-2020 priorities.

13 The Central Scotland Green Network Trust succeeded the Central Scotland Forest Trust in 2014.

14 The risk that an antlered red deer stag can pose to human safety in a built-up area was illustrated by the serious injuries to a woman when a stag ‘panicked’ in 2013. See ‘Woman badly injured by panicked stag in the Highlands’, BBC website, 31 December 2013.

15 For example, other indicators might include: the number of DVCs recorded locally; complaints of damage by deer; low intensity field surveys of woodlands for evidence of deer impacts; and thermal imaging counts.

16 Putman, R., Langbein, J., Watson, P., Green, P. and Cahill, S. (2014). The Management of Urban Populations of Ungulates. In: Putman, R. and Apollonio, M. (Eds.) Behaviour and Management of European Ungulates. Whittles Publishing, p.158.

17 Watson, P. et al. (2009) Op cit.

18 Watson, P. et al. (2009) Op cit.

19 Putman et al. (2014) Op cit.

20 Watson, P. et al. (2009) Op cit.

21 Watson, P. et al. (2009) Op cit.

22 Watson, P. et al. (2009) Op cit.

23 See Section 8.

24 Parks and other sites may be common good land that is not owned, only managed by the Local Authority (e.g. in Edinburgh).

25 Surveying with thermal imaging sights at night can be a valuable aid for assessing deer numbers in urban areas.

26 For example, Aberdeen City.

27 This would also include, for example, having a single point of responsibility and contact for SNH, as well as for the Police and SSPCA if they are called to a situation involving deer.



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