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

The final report of the Deer Working Group.

Section 25 Scottish Government

25.1 Overall Policy Context

8 The SG’s policy for the management of wild deer is framed within the context of the SG’s overall policy goals. These start with the National Performance Framework with its four strategic aims for Scotland and 11 national outcomes to achieve those aims.[1] A wide range of other high-level SG policy documents flow from this including, for example, the current Scottish Economic Strategy, the Climate Change Plan 2018-32 and the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.[2]

9 A core document in setting the context for the SG’s deer management policy is the SG’s Land Use Strategy for Scotland 2016-21.[3] The Land Use Strategy (LUS), which includes a commitment to applying an ecosystem approach, is based on a vision, three objectives and 11 principles for sustainable land use. The vision is “A Scotland where we fully recognise, understand and value the importance of our land resources, and where our plans and decisions about land use will deliver improved and enduring benefits, enhancing the wellbeing of our nation”.

10 The SG has also produced a Scottish Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, which is intended to apply to all land owners and land management, and which is based on a vision and six principles.[4] Another part of the context is the Scottish Regulators’ Strategic Code of Practice. This was first produced as a requirement of the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 and the public sector regulators covered by the Code include SNH.[5] The Code is based on five principles of better regulation, which require that any regulation is transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted.

25.2 Deer Management Policy

11 Responsibility for the management of wild deer within the SG comes under the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform and is managed within the SG’s Environment and Forestry Directorate. Within the Directorate, deer management comes under the Deputy Director dealing with Natural Resources and below that, the Head of Wildlife and Biodiversity.

12 The relationship between the SG and SNH is central to the delivery of public policy for deer management. SNH is a non-departmental public body and, as one of the SG’s agencies, is funded by and answerable to the SG. SNH’s funding is provided by an annual budget allocation from the SG. The amount was £50.45 million in 2018/19.[6] SNH then decides how much of that overall funding to allocate to deer management, with the budgeted amount being approximately £1.5 million in 2018/19.[7] The SG also sometimes provides additional funding to SNH for specific purposes. For example, the SG provided £200,000 to support SNH’s work with Deer Management Groups (DMGs) ahead of the 2016 DMG assessment.[8]

13 The SG determines public policy for deer management and all public bodies are expected to follow that policy. SNH has the lead role in implementing the policy through its responsibilities for deer management under the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996. In the Act, SNH has powers and duties, and only requires permission from Scottish Ministers in the Act for two particular actions.[9] However, in s.2 of the Act, SNH is required to provide advice to Scottish Ministers on any matter relating to the purposes of the Act that Ministers might refer to SNH, and also to bring to the attention of Ministers any matters relating to deer which SNH consider Minister should be appraised.

14 The relationship between the SG and SNH over deer policy is that SNH advises and the SG decides.[10] The SG considers that its policy on deer management is represented by ‘Wild Deer: A National Approach’ (WDNA) and also by the Code of Practice on Deer Management.[11],[12] These documents are seen as part of a sequence that starts at the level of the SG’s Land Use Strategy and descends through the WDNA and the Code to the practical level of Wild Deer Best Practice guidance (WDBP).[13]

15 The Group reviews the WDNA, Code and WDBP below. However, the Group considers that neither the WDNA nor the Code are policy documents. They potentially reflect SG policy, but they do not provide a statement of public policy for the management of wild deer in Scotland. The Group considers there is a need for a clearer statement of SG policy.

16 The Group is also unclear about the boundaries between the SG and SNH in terms of responsibilities for deer management. While SNH advises and the SG decides, the Group considers there is a lack of clarity on the extent to which the SG controls SNH’s scope to take initiatives to improve deer management. The Group recognises that there is on-going contact between SG and SNH officials. However, when the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee criticised SNH in 2017 for not providing “the level of leadership on deer management that might have been expected”, the Group’s view is that the comment might have been directed at least equally at the SG.[14]

17 There is no plan for what the SG expects SNH to achieve on deer management over a set period, whether linked to SNH’s budget or otherwise. The WDNA provides a sense of direction, but the document is not a plan of what SNH intends to do to improve deer management. The SG does issue instructions to SNH from time to time, such as requiring SNH to produce reports on deer management in Scotland in 2016 and 2019.[15]

18 The SG called for those two reports as part of the series of assessments that SNH has carried out of DMGs in 2014, 2016 and 2019.[16] That assessment process has been the main focus of SNH’s work on deer management over the last five years and also the SG’s statements on deer management during that time. However, that dominant focus on deer management planning by DMGs over the last five years did not result from the initiative of either SNH or the SG, but the ECCLR Committee and its predecessor, the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment (RACCE) Committee.

25.3 Wild Deer: A National Approach

19 The Deer Commission for Scotland (DCS) replaced the Red Deer Commission (RDC) as a result of the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996. In 2000, the DCS published ‘Wild Deer in Scotland - A long term vision’. The vision was for 15-20 years time (i.e. the current period) and is included in Annex 10. In 2001, the DCS then published a Long Term Strategy for how the DCS intended to implement the vision.

20 In 2008, both the DCS’s documents were replaced by the publication of the SG’s ‘Wild Deer: A National Approach’ (WDNA). The WDNA included a new 20 year vision for deer management in Scotland (see Annex 10), and set out guiding principles, objectives and actions to work towards that vision. The SG described the WDNA as a strategy that provided a new approach to “managing deer for the benefit of the nation” and which would rely for its successful delivery “on the collaborative effort of the Government and the deer sector”.[17] The WDNA was based on consultations with the deer sector and collaboration is a prominent theme in the document.

21 The 2008 WDNA strategy included a commitment to review the document every five years. There was also a commitment to produce reports annually on both the actions taken by the public and private sectors that contributed to the delivery of WDNA, and on revised action plans for the coming years.

22 SNH became responsible for managing the WDNA process in 2010 after it replaced the DCS. The first review included a Progress and Gaps Analysis 2008-14.[18] A revised 2014 version of the WDNA was then produced covering 2015-20. This included a revised vision for 2030 (see Annex 10) and the same six guiding principles as the 2008 version. The objectives based on the public interest in deer management were modified and revised actions set out. SNH continues to publish annual reports on actions in the past year and on actions for the coming year. There is also on-going engagement over WDNA with organisations representing the deer sector.[19]

23 In the revised WDNA, it is stated that WDNAis a 20 year vision for wild deer management”.[20] However, WDNA is also described in other documents as “the Scottish Government’s joint Agencies strategy”.[21] That label reflects that the WDNA Steering Group, which is responsible for overseeing the WDNA reviews and action plans, consists of representatives of the SG, SNH, Scottish Forestry, Forestry and Land Scotland and the two national park authorities.[22]

24 The WDNA Steering Group met four times in 2007 in the lead up to WDNA being published in 2008.[23] The Steering Group then met twice in 2008 and once in 2009, before there was a gap until the Steering Group met again in 2013 at the start of the WDNA five year review. In the six years 2013-18, the Steering Group averaged 1.5 meetings a year.

25 SNH chairs the Steering Group and provides the agendas and minutes for meetings, and also carries out the annual process of producing reports. While the Steering Group currently has not met since December 2017, the minutes of its three meetings that year indicated that little of substance was discussed.[24] The next WDNA five year review is due in 2020.

26 WDNA and its associated process have been in place for over 10 years. The Steering Group’s Terms of Reference state that “WDNA sets the strategic direction for government and stakeholders to work together to deliver practical deer management actions”. The focus of the annual reporting on WDNA is also on actions and the number of organisations involved and, for example, following the review of the first five years of WDNA, it had been reported that “more than 200 actions have been delivered by over 20 organisations over the past 5 years”.[25]

27 SNH continues to compile these statistics each year with, for example, 69 actions by 18 organisations reported for 2017/18. SNH records the number of these actions under each of the priorities for WDNA in 2015-20 and categorises them on the basis of whether they were carried out, carried forward or deferred/not achieved. However, no account is taken of the relative significance of the different actions, some of which are fairly minor activities. There has also been no adequate assessment of what the WDNA might have achieved in practice over the last 10 years.

28 The 2008 version of WDNA stated that the impacts of implementing the strategy on the environment, economy and society would be monitored through “a collection of indicators” to “build a picture of trends and progress”.[26] The same statement was included in the 2014 version. A set of 11 indicators was developed in 2009/10 and an initial attempt made to assess them at the time of 2014 review of WDNA. Indicators were scored whether the trend was positive, uncertain or negative and the results put on SNH’s website.[27]

29 Following the 2014 review of WDNA, a modified set of 13 indicators was developed by SNH as a basis for assessing progress on the WDNA priorities for 2015-20.[28] An assessment of the indicators and trends was then carried out in time for possible use in SNH’s 2016 report to the SG on deer management in Scotland. However, the results were not included in that report and have not been published. As there has also been no subsequent assessment yet, a summary table of the results is included here as Annex 11.

30 In the 2016 summary table of WDNA indicators and trends, the trends for the 13 indicators were scored as five positive, four negative and four stable. The five positive trends after eight years of WDNA were limited in their nature and not necessarily attributable to the influence of WDNA, for example, a public opinion survey that found “the number of people with concerns about deer has decreased”. Similarly, the increase in the number of DMGs with improved administration reflected the separate DMG assessment process since 2014 that resulted from the critical comments of a parliamentary committee.

31 The other three positive trends included that the value of deer stalking to the Scottish economy had increased based on the two consultants reports described in Section 20, and that the number of people with Deer Stalking Certificate Level 1 had increased, although the number of new holders each year has been reducing.[29] The one other positive trend was that Scotland still had only four species of wild deer, which might more accurately have been scored as stable.

32 While the development of metrics for the public interest was identified as a priority in the WDNA action plan for 2017, the Group considers that the limited number and scope of the WDNA indicators reflects the fairly anodyne nature of the current document. The Group considers the minimalist vision adopted in 2014 is an unrealistic expectation based on progress to date, while defined steps or targets are not set for working towards the 14 aspirational public interest objectives.

33 The focus of the WDNA is on outputs (actions) rather than outcomes (practical results) and the Group considers that the bureaucratic process of annual reports and action plans creates the impression of greater progress than is the case. The WDNA document gives a good sense of the general direction of public of policy and, in line with its original purpose, provides a strategic context for discussions with the representatives of some of the main deer sector organisations through a WDNA Action Group. However, the Group considers that the WDNA lacks focus and intent.

34 The Group’s impression is that the SG pays little or no attention to the WDNA process. The public agency steering group also appears to have very limited input, despite the impacts that deer are having on the interests of Scottish Forestry, Forest and Land Scotland and the national park authorities. The WDNA is the SG’s document, but the process appears to be managed essentially by SNH staff and the representatives of a relatively small number of deer sector organisations.

35 Collaboration between public and private sectors can be very positive and is to be supported. However, the Group considers that both the WDNA document and process place an overemphasis on it. The Group also considers that the actual influence of WDNA on the management of wild deer in Scotland is very limited compared to the profile that WDNA is given.

36 The limitations of the current WDNA approach are particularly significant because of its key position in the hierarchy of documents from the SG’s Land Use Strategy down to Best Practice guidance, as described earlier. The limitations are also emphasised by the lack of a document that gives a clear statement of SG policy for the management of wild deer and the lack of any plan of the actions that SNH intends to take over a set period to achieve improvements in deer management.

37 The Group supports public-private sector collaboration. However, the Group considers that either a clear statement of SG policy or an SNH action plan, if they were appropriately done, could be more effective in securing progress in standards of deer management than the current WDNA. The Group considers both the policy and the plan are needed.

38 The Working Group recommends that the review of ‘Wild Deer: A National Approach’ (WDNA) which is due in 2020, should be a major and thorough review of the WDNA approach and should result in a more focused and targeted outcome.

25.5 Code of Practice on Deer Management

39 The origin of the Code of Practice on Deer Management was the view that there should be a legal requirement on the owners of land to manage wild deer that occur on their land responsibly. The RDC, DCS and others seeking to improve deer management in Scotland had long argued that owners have a moral or social responsibility to do this. The DCS then proposed to the SG shortly before the DCS was replaced by SNH in 2010, that all land owners should have a statutory duty of ‘sustainable deer management’. The proposal was supported by SNH and the Forestry Commission.[30]

40 The SG consulted on this proposal as part of developing measures to include in the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill (WANE(S) Bill). However, the SG did not include the proposed statutory duty in the Bill. This was because the SG concluded that such a duty would be “unreasonably vague” for any breach to be enforceable as an offence, and would therefore not meet the standards required by Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights.[31] Instead of the statutory duty, the SG sought “to bring about a de-facto duty” by including provisions in the Bill for a voluntary Code of Practice in the Bill.[32]

41 The SG explained at Stage 1 of the WANE(S) Bill in the Scottish Parliament, that the Code “will set out in detail what we mean by sustainable management” and will “be taken into account when SNH decides whether to use its intervention powers”.[33] The SG considered that the Code will be “a more useful approach than just setting out in the bill a general duty to manage deer sustainably. It is more useful to describe in the code of practice what that actually means, and to link that with the intervention powers”.[34]

42 Subsequently, the WANE(S) Act 2011 amended the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 by inserting a new section, s.5A ‘Code of practice on deer management’. This placed a duty on SNH in s.5A(1) to “draw up a code of practice for the purpose of providing practical guidance in respect of deer management”.

43 Under s.5A, SNH is also required to consult on the proposed Code or any replacement, and to submit the proposed Code or replacement to Scottish Ministers for approval. The first Code and any replacement then has to be laid before the Scottish Parliament for approval by resolution before the Code can come into effect. The first Code of Practice came into effect on 1st January 2012 and remains the current Code. There is no statutory duty or legal requirement on land owners or others involved in deer management to follow the Code.

44 In s.5A(2), some topics that the Code “may” cover are listed. When the Act was first passed, these included the option to “set out examples of the circumstances in which SNH may seek to secure a control agreement or make a control scheme”. Linked to that, the WANE(S) Act added the need for SNH to have regard to the Code of Practice into SNH’s powers under s.7 ‘Control agreements’ and s.8 ‘Control schemes’.

45 Subsequently, when the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 (LR(S) Act) amended the 1996 Act to include s.6A giving SNH the power to require a deer management plan to be produced, the provisions included the requirement for SNH to have regard to the Code. The requirement to produce a deer management plan was also added to the examples in s.5(2) of topics that might be covered in the Code.

46 However, the use of the powers under ss.6A, 7 and 8 is dependent on the fact that damage to the interests covered by those three sections has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur. In those circumstances, neither the contents of the Code nor whether someone has or has not followed the voluntary Code are directly relevant to SNH deciding whether or not to use the powers. The Group has therefore recommended earlier in considering those powers in Part Four of the Report, that the provision to have regard to the Code should be removed from ss.6A, 7 and 8.

47 The current Code mentions ss.7 and 8, but does not follow the option in s.5(2) to set out examples of the circumstances in which the powers might be used. That would be difficult to do at more than a very general and therefore superficial level, because of the variety of circumstances that could be involved. The Code also makes no mention of SNH’s regulatory powers under ss.10 and 11 to control deer numbers.

48 The Group considers that the SG’s intention to link the Code directly to SNH’s regulatory powers was overambitious for what might realistically be achieved through a voluntary Code of Practice. The Group also considers that, while the topics listed in s.5A(2) are optional, the list is unnecessarily prescriptive for primary legislation.

49 The purpose of the Code in s.5A(1) is to provide “practical guidance in respect of deer management”. The Group considers the primary legislation, which may be seldom changed, should avoid specifying what the Code might cover as it places emphasis on particular topics. Under s.5A(3) there is the requirement that “SNH must from time to time review the code of practice”. The Group considers that the contents of s.5A(2) were a product of the time and could be repealed to maintain flexibility in the focus of versions of the Code over the time.

50 While s.5A(12) already required SNH to monitor compliance with the Code, the LR(S) Act 2016 then amended the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 to add s.5B ‘Review of compliance with code of practice on deer management’. That new section elaborated on the nature of the review to be carried out. The section also set the date for SNH’s first review of compliance and placed a requirement on SNH to review compliance every three years after the first review.

51 SNH completed its first review of compliance with the Code in 2019. The review was based on a questionnaire that was distributed through the organisations making up the Deer Management Round Table.[35] The questionnaire was mainly based on the actions identified in Chapter 3 of the Code, which has 14 actions that should be taken to avoid the risk of the use of SNH’s regulatory powers and 17 actions that should be taken to demonstrate good practice. The questionnaire also sought to assess the role of the Code in promoting sustainable deer management through questions on awareness of the Code and how effective the respondents thought the Code had been in influencing behaviour.

52 The results of the questionnaire survey have been published by SNH.[36] There were 160 responses, with 100 from owner-occupiers and 60 from representatives of organisations. However, not all the respondents had any responsibility for deer management, so that the responses included 86 owner-occupiers and 46 representatives of organisations with direct responsibilities for deer management. Not all these respondents replied to each question. Thus, while SNH’s analysis is mainly presented as percentages of respondents, the response rates to some of the questions were very low (for example, 14%, 22%, 28% of those who responded).

53 The Group considers that the nature of the questions used by SNH in the questionnaire reflects the lack of measures in the current version of the Code that could be used to audit compliance effectively. In SNH’s comments on the outcome of the questionnaire in its recent report on deer management to the SG, SNH also noted the need for some caution in the interpretation of the results “due to the small sample size and potential for bias in self-selecting responses”.[37] The prominent finding that 55% of respondents considered that the Code is effective, for example, was the view of 73 respondents.

54 SNH took into account a number of other sources of information in addition to the questionnaire in reaching the overall conclusion of its review.[38] SNH’s main conclusion was that “we consider the majority of land managers are complying with the letter and spirit of the Code”.[39] The Group has examined both the results of the questionnaire and, as part of the work for this Report, the other sources that SNH cites. The Group considers that SNH does not have adequate information to reach this conclusion at a national level. The conclusion also appears at odds with the extent of damage still being caused by deer, as described in Part Three of this Report.

55 However, the Group does not support the requirement in s.5B of the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 that SNH carry out another review of compliance with the Code every three years from 2019 onwards. The Group considers that this is unnecessarily frequent for monitoring the effect of the voluntary Code and will require the use of SNH resources that could be deployed on addressing more pressing deer management issues.

56 The Group considers that the three-yearly requirement is a legacy of the SG’s unrealistic expectations of the Code might achieve. The Group considers that the requirement should be removed from s.5B and that the requirement to review compliance should be as provided in s.5A(12) without a time commitment. The Group considers that circumstances will be sufficient to identify times at which a review of compliance would be appropriate. The Group also considers that ss.5A and 5B could and should be integrated into one section to make the legislation clearer.

57 The Working Group recommends that section 5B of the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 should be amended to remove the requirement for compliance with the Code of Practice on Deer Management to be reviewed every three years.

58 Codes of Practice are used in many sectors and can be helpful in setting out the standards of management expected. Other similar approaches can also be helpful as illustrated, for example, by the European Charter on Hunting and Biodiversity.[40]The Group therefore supports the principle of having a Code of Practice as part of the public interest framework for the management of wild deer. However, the Group considers much could be done to improve the current Code

59 As quoted above from s.5A(2), “SNH must review from time to time the code of practice” and the Group considers that the Code should be reviewed for the first time. The current Code is a relatively long, often repetitive and complex document, and difficult to assimilate. At the start of Code, for example, there is a summary list of seven steps to follow the Code and this suggests the Code is arranged around the seven steps, but they are not followed in the rest of the document.

60 The seven steps are written as questions and are about deer management planning, which is a dominant topic in the Code, along with collaboration. While the seven steps are on page three, the public interests to be protected from damage by deer under the deer legislation are not listed until page 22 of 27. There is relatively little in the Code about actual practical deer management other than frequent references to the existence of Wild Deer Best Practice guides.

61 There is also no basic introduction to the law governing deer management, for example, the various aspects of how and when deer can be killed or captured alive as described in Part Two of this Report. The Group considers that a synopsis of the legal position would be more helpful that the repeated references to Acts of Parliament in the current Code.

62 The Group considers that, over eight years after the current Code of Practice was drafted, it should be reviewed. The Group considers that, with the benefit of that first version of the Code as a starting point, a review should result in a clearer, shorter and more useful version of the Code that also allows more effective audit of compliance. The Group considers that a revised version could and should be more effective at promoting high standards of practical deer management in Scotland.

63 The Working Group recommends that the Scottish Government should instruct Scottish Natural Heritage to carry out a review of the contents of the current Code of Practice on Deer Management with the aim of producing a clearer and more effective version of the Code.

25.6 Wild Deer Best Practice

64 The SG is not directly involved in Wild Deer Best Practice (WDBP), which is an initiative managed by SNH and representatives of the deer sector. However, WDBP is considered in this Section because it is an important component of the public sector framework for deer management with the SG’s Land Use Strategy, WDNA and the Code of Practice.

65 WDBP provides practical guides on a wide range of topics related to deer and their management. The WDBP introduction states that “At the heart of the guides is the need for clarity on the law; along with three central aims: safeguarding public safety; ensuring food safety; and taking full account of deer welfare”.

66 The DCS started WDBP in 2002/03 as a major new initiative after the DCS had produced its 15-20 year Vision for wild deer in Scotland and a Long Term Strategy to implement the Vision, both of which were subsequently replaced by WDNA.[41] The DCS recognised that the practical guides would be most useful if they were developed with and endorsed by deer practitioners. The guides were therefore developed by a Steering Group involving representatives of key deer sector organisations.[42] The DCS chaired the Steering Group and was responsible for the final approval of any guide to be published.

67 The first tranche of WDBP guides were published in 2003. The guides were produced in both hard copy and on the DCS website, which had been significantly re-designed to accommodate them. There were over 70 guides by 2008 as the DCS and WDBP Steering Group continued to develop new guides and update existing ones. SNH continued to chair the Steering Group when it replaced the DCS in 2010 and there are currently over 100 WDBP guides on a wide range of topics.

68 The WDBP guidance is recognised as a valuable part of deer management in Scotland. As a result, there is now equivalent WDBP guidance in England and Wales managed by the Deer Initiative, which is a broad partnership of statutory, voluntary and private interests dedicated to “ensuring the delivery of a sustainable, well-managed wild deer population in England and Wales”.[43] There is also equivalent WDBP guidance in Ireland managed by the Irish Deer Management Forum covering both the Republic and Northern Ireland and involving a similar type of partnership to the Deer Initiative.

69 There was, however, a lack of leadership and loss of momentum with WDBP in Scotland after SNH took over. At that stage, SNH appointed a project officer to maintain and develop the WDBP with the ultimate aim of SNH withdrawing from the WDBP project and transferring it to the bodies forming the WDBP Steering Group. However, SNH’s approach was unsuccessful and, as a result, the WDBP project “stagnated for several years”.[44]

70 SNH remained responsible for WDBP, including its funding, and there was increasing concern about the position. As a result, SNH contracted a project worker from the Deer Initiative for up to half a full time equivalent job for three years starting in 2017-18 to help with the management and coordination of WDBP. The project worker is supervised by SNH and the work is “largely concerned with maintaining an overview of different BP initiatives in E&W, Ireland and Scotland” and will “particularly ensure consistency across guides within the Scottish suite”.[45]

71 In May 2018, SNH also produced the first WDBP newsletter for some years prompted by the need to implement the UK’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). Previously, the DCS and SNH had published hard copies of each new guide and posted copies to everyone on the WDBP mailing list. To comply with GDPR, SNH made sure all guides were on the WDBP website, which was also re-vamped to make it mobile/tablet friendly and to enable the downloading and printing of guides. SNH then deleted the WDBP mailing list with approximately 2,000 names and addresses, with information on new guides to be disseminated through the WDBP Steering Group organisations and other channels.

72 SNH continued to chair the WDBP and remained “the driving force behind maintaining the project and suggesting new guides”.[46] While the system for new or updated guides is based on the approval of the Steering Group, SNH retains the final say on whether a guide is published. However, SNH still aspires to transfer responsibility for WDBP to the Steering Group organisations.[47] As a step in that direction, an external Convener was appointed in 2019 to chair the Steering Group.[48]

73 The Group, however, does not support SNH’s ambition to transfer responsibility of the WDBP project. This could threaten the sustainability of the WDBP project as already illustrated. The Group considers that the WDBP is a valuable and important part of the current public interest framework for deer management in Scotland.

74 The WDBP is a public sector initiative and there is a clear public interest in ensuring that the guidance provided continues to be of a high standard, both for the value of the guides themselves and given the significance of the WDBP in WDNA and the Code of Practice. The Code states, for example, that “Throughout the Code there are references to Wild Deer Best Practice Guides”.[49]

75 The Group considers that SNH should make a policy decision to maintain the WDBP. The decision could be subject to a review in, for example, five years’ time. The WDBP should continue to operate under the current arrangements, with all guides needing to be approved by the Steering Group and SNH having the final say on whether a guide is published.

76 The Group considers that the SG should support such a decision by SNH because of the value of WDBP as part of the wider public interest framework. The Group considers that the SG should recognise the maintenance of the WDBP as part of SNH’s deer management roles, just as SNH maintains the WDNA process and the operation of the Code of Practice.

77 The Working Group recommends that Scottish Natural Heritage should make a policy decision with the Scottish Government’s support, to continue to manage the Wild Deer Best Practice project for at least the next five years.


1 Scottish Government (2018). National Performance Framework.

2 Scotland’s Economic Strategy (Scottish Government, 2018); Climate Change Plan – third report on proposals and policies 2018-2032 (Scottish Government, 2018); 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity (Scottish Government, 2013).

3 Scottish Government (2016). Getting the best from our land – a Land Use Strategy for Scotland 2016-2021.

4 Scottish Government (2017). Scottish land rights and responsibilities statement.

5 Scottish Government (2015). Scottish regulators’ strategic code of practice.

6 SNH correspondence with DWG, 19 March 2019.

7 See Section 26.

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

9 Implementing a s.8 Control Scheme and waiving charges under s.12.

10 Scottish Government discussion with DWG, 12 December 2018.

11 Scottish Government discussion with DWG, 12 December 2018.

12 Scotland’s Wild Deer: A National Approach including 2015-2020 priorities (SNH, 2014a); Code of Practice on Deer Management (SNH, 2011).

13 SNH (2014a) Op cit.

14 ECCLR Committee (2017). Deer Management in Scotland: Report to the Scottish Government from SNH 2016, SP Paper 117, 5th Report (Session 5), 3 April 2017, Executive Summary, paragraph 13.

15 SNH (2016). Deer Management in Scotland: Report to the Scottish Government from SNH, October 2016. SNH (2019). Assessing Progress in Deer Management – Report from Scottish Natural Heritage to Scottish Government, September 2019.

16 The assessment process is discussed in Section 26.

17 Scottish Government (2008). Scotland’s Wild Deer: A National Approach. Foreword by the Minister for Environment.

18 SNH (2014b). Scotland’s Wild Deer: A National Approach - Progress and Gap Analysis 2008-14.

19 These include the British Deer Society, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Association of Deer Management Groups and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association.

20 SNH (2014a) Op cit, p.3,

21 SNH (no date). Deer Management Plans: Delivering the Public Interest.

22 WDNA Steering Group, Draft Terms of Reference.

23 SNH correspondence with DWG, 20 March 2019.

24 ‘Currently’ is at 27 August 2019 (SNH correspondence with DWG); minutes of meetings via DWG correspondence with SNH, 18 December 2018.

25 SNH (2014a) Op cit, p.21.

26 Scottish Government (2008), Op cit, p.18.

27 SNH (2016). Scotland Wild Deer: A National Approach. Update on Deer Indicators, revised June 2016.

28 SNH (2015). Description of WDNA Indicators for period 2015-20.

29 See Section 8.

30 Scottish Parliament Rural Affairs and Environment Committee. Discussion of the purpose of the Code of Practice during the Passage of the WANE(S) Bill 2010. SPPB 159, para 561.

31 Scottish Parliament Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, Op cit, para 559.

32 Scottish Parliament Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, Op cit, para 557.

33 Scottish Parliament Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, Op cit, para 579.

34 Scottish Parliament Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, Op cit, para 579.

35 The Deer Management Round Table was established by the RDC and others in the mid 1990s in the lead-up to the 1996 Act to facilitate round table discussions between all the interests involved in deer management. The DCS and now SNH have continued the round table as a useful forum for sharing information and discussing deer management issues.

36 Granville, S. and Hunter, R. (2019). Review of compliance with the Code of Practice on Deer Management. Scottish Natural Heritage Research Report No. 1095.

37 SNH (2019) Op cit, p.60.

38 DMG assessments, SNH’s use of its regulatory powers and the reports of the Lowland Panel and Lowland Deer Management Project (SNH 2019, Op cit).

39 SNH (2019) Op cit, p.4.

40 Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (2007). European Charter on Hunting and Biodiversity. Adopted at the Bern Convention, November 2007.

41 DCS Annual Report, 2002/03.

42 The British Deer Society, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Association of Deer Management Groups, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, Lantra Scotland and the Forestry Commission.

43 The Deer Initiative website (

44 SNH correspondence with DWG, 30 October 2018.

45 SNH correspondence with DWG, 30 October 2018.

46 SNH correspondence with DWG, 30 October 2018.

47 SNH correspondence with DWG, 30 October 2018.

48 The Steering Group organisations are currently the British Deer Society, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Association of Deer Management Groups, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, Lantra Scotland, Forestry and Land Scotland, Scotland’s Rural College, University of the Highlands and Islands, Borders College, the Lowland Deer Network Scotland and the Deer Initiative.

49 SNH (2011). Code of Practice on Deer Management, p.3.



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