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

The final report of the Deer Working Group.

Section 29 Conclusions

4 Wild deer in Scotland belong to no-one until killed or captured and are part of the public domain to be managed to safeguard and promote the public interest or common good of the people of Scotland. The right to hunt wild deer generally goes with the ownership of land and since the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959, there has been a statutory framework to govern the management of wild deer with the aim of protecting the public interests covered by the legislation. The submission of the Group’s Report to the Scottish Government in 2019 coincides with the 60th anniversary of the 1959 Act.

5 During the last 60 years, much has changed about the management of wild deer in Scotland. The distributions and numbers of each of Scotland’s four species of wild deer, red, roe, sika and fallow deer, have increased substantially and one or more species now occurs throughout mainland Scotland. Most of the deer are associated with woodlands and on-going woodland expansion continues to improve Scotland as a habitat for wild deer. The numbers of wild deer shot annually has also increased substantially over the decades, with a consequent increase in wild venison production and sales.

6 Scotland’s deer legislation has also evolved over the last 60 years, with the 1959 Act being replaced by the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 and SNH replacing the Deer Commission for Scotland in the Act in 2010 as the public authority responsible for implementing the legislation. Amendments to the 1996 Act have also continued in recent years through the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016. At the same time, however, there has been a high degree of continuity in the legislation with the 1996 Act still largely based on the terms of the 1959 Act.

7 There has also been a high level of continuity over the decades in the issues that occur over damage caused by wild deer to forestry, agriculture, other land uses and the natural environment. While there have also been continuing concerns over standards of deer welfare, additional issues over the damage that wild deer can cause have become more important. These include the numbers of deer vehicle collisions that now take place each year and the damaging impacts that can result from the colonisation of Scotland’s urban areas by wild deer.

8 The changes to the legislation and many non-statutory initiatives over the years to try to improve standards of deer management, can be viewed as progress. However, the Group considers that it is understandable that some commentators should be struck “by the limited progress in addressing some of the issues over the management of wild deer in Scotland, particularly red deer, despite many years of debate over these issues”.[3]

9 The Group was appointed by the Scottish Government because of the continuing issues over the management of wild deer. The Group has therefore, as required by its Terms of Reference, carried out a wide ranging review of Scotland’s current system of statutory and non-statutory arrangements for deer management to make recommendations to fulfil its remit.

10 In Part One of the Report, the Group started by considering three main factors that underlie Scotland’s system of deer management: the legal status of wild deer, the nature of deer hunting rights and the character of the statutory framework governing the management of wild deer. The Group then reviewed the information available on the distributions, populations and culls of Scotland’s four species of wild deer. Finally in Part One, the Group examined the statutory functions of SNH in the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996, as the public body responsible for implementing Scotland’s deer legislation, and the public interests covered by the legislation

11 In Part Two, the Group then reviewed the basic standards of public safety and deer welfare that should apply to the management of wild deer in all circumstances. In Part Three, the Group considered the nature and extent of the damage that deer can cause to different types of land uses and public interests in particular circumstances. In Part Four, the Group examined the compulsory powers in the Deer (Scotland) 1996 that SNH can exercise either to require land owners and occupiers to provide certain types of information or to control deer numbers to prevent damage or reduce the likelihood of damage by deer in particular circumstances.

12 In Part Five, the Group then reviewed the Scottish Government’s and SNH’s current non-statutory arrangements to support the implementation of the deer legislation and to improve the standards of deer management. In Part Six, the Group first considered further improvements to SNH’s current non-statutory approach. The Group then discussed the need for the Scottish Government to take steps now to be in a position to introduce further statutory measures in due course, if the Group’s recommendations, the ongoing work of SNH and other factors that may improve the standards of deer control, are not ensuring in the next few years effective deer management that safeguards public interests.

13 The Group has examined many different aspects of the current system for the management of wild deer in Parts One to Six and, as a result, made nearly 100 recommendations. These are listed in Section 30. In broad terms, approximately half of these recommendations are for amendments to the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 and its associated secondary legislation, while the other half relate to the non-statutory approaches adopted by the Scottish Government and SNH to support the implementation of the legislation and improvements in the standards of deer management more generally.

14 The Group’s recommendations for changes to Scotland’s deer legislation include a wide range of amendments to the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996. They also involve replacing the existing three Orders passed under the Act with revised versions, and adding a fourth Order in due course.[4] The recommended changes are to update and improve the current provisions to make the legislation more effective at safeguarding public interests.

15 The recommended changes to the 1996 Act are wide ranging and involve many different sections in the Act, as listed in Annex 6. Some of these recommendations are simply to remove anomalies and inconsistencies in the Act, while others are more significant changes. The Act has already been much amended since it was passed nearly 25 years ago and the Group considers that, after further amendments as recommended in this Report, the changes should be consolidated into a new principal Deer Act.

16 The Working Group recommends that the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 should, after amendments to implement recommendations in this Report, be replaced with a new Deer (Scotland) Act.

17 The Group’s recommendations reflect the Group’s overall conclusions that, to fulfil the Group’s remit, the deer legislation needs to be modernised, SNH needs to take a re-focused non-statutory approach and the Scottish Government needs to take steps to be in a position to introduce further statutory measures in due course if that proves necessary.

18 The Group considers that the need for adequate standards of deer control to support the successful implementation of the Scottish Government’s climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, provides an important imperative for ensuring that Scotland has an effective system for the management of wild deer that safeguards public interests and promotes the sustainable management of the deer.

19 The Group considers that all its recommendations will contribute to delivering a system of deer management that will fulfil the Group’s remit. The recommendations, however, vary in their individual significance and each needs to be considered on its own merits. The recommendations also vary in the time that will be required to implement them. Changes to the deer legislation will be dependent on the Scottish Government’s wider priorities and opportunities in the Scottish Parliament. Similarly, the implementation of some of the non-statutory changes will also take time.

20 The role of SNH as the deer authority under the 1996 Act will be central to implementing the Group’s recommendations, both in providing advice to the Scottish Government on statutory changes and in taking forward non-statutory measures. SNH’s resources for its work as the deer authority will be an important factor in this. The Group considers that implementing its recommendations could possibly be seen within the context of the existing levels of funds that SNH allocates to deer management, by re-allocating some elements of the allocation. However, as SNH has pointed out itself, the Group considers that SNH’s progress on improving deer management is already constrained by its limited funds.[5]

21 The Group considers that a greater investment in improving deer management has the potential both to quicken progress and to produce substantial savings in the financial and non-financial costs resulting from the current levels of damage by deer to public interests. As SNH has concluded, the available evidence indicates 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, leading to enhanced public benefits.[6]

22 The Group considers that its recommendations, if adopted, could be converted into a programme of changes. The recommended changes to Scotland’s deer legislation can be divided, for example, into those that are straightforward and could be made relatively quickly if there was a legislative opportunity, through to those that would require greater parliamentary time to a varying extent. Similarly, some of the non-statutory recommendations could be implemented soon, while others will take longer. Some of the recommendations are also dependent one or more of the other recommendations being implemented first.

23 The Scottish Government’s current vision for the management of wild deer in Scotland by 2030, is set out in ‘Wild Deer: A National Approach’ and included in Annex 10 in this Report. The Group considers that its recommendations to fulfil its remit will make an essential contribution with other factors in achieving that vision before or by that date.

24 The Working Group recommends that the Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage should develop and implement a programme of changes to the current system of deer management based on the Group’s recommendations, so that Scotland will have a system that ensures effective deer management that safeguards public interests and promotes the sustainable management of wild deer.


3 Land Reform Review Group (2014). The Land of Scotland and the Common Good. Report to Scottish Ministers, p.227.

4 The existing Orders are The Licensing of Venison Dealers (Prescribed Forms etc.) (Scotland) Order 1984, The Deer (Firearms etc.) (Scotland) Order 1985, The Deer (Close Seasons) (Scotland) Order 2011. The fourth Order would be made under an amended s.17A ‘Register of persons competent to shoot deer’.

5 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.

6 SNH (2016) Op cit.



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