Managing deer for climate and nature: consultation

We are consulting on proposals to modernise the legislation which governs deer management in Scotland and ensure it is fit for purpose in the context of the biodiversity and climate crises, alongside a small number of proposals concerned with farmed and kept deer.


This consultation is seeking views on a range of matters related to deer management. These matters are set out within the 6 themes listed below:

Theme 1: Enhancing the Natural Environment

Theme 2: Compliance

Theme 3: Wild deer Welfare

Theme 4: Changes to close seasons

Theme 5: Venison

Theme 6: Kept and Farmed Deer

You can complete all the sections in the consultation or only those sections which are of interest/relevance to you.


The purpose of our proposals is to modernise the legislation which governs deer management in Scotland and ensure it is fit for purpose in the context of the biodiversity and climate crises. Deer are one of Scotland’s most iconic species, but managing them effectively has been one of the biggest challenges we have faced over the last eighty years in our work to improve Scotland’s natural environment.

Achieving sustainable deer populations is fundamental to our ability to meet our climate and biodiversity goals. Herbivores, including deer, have an impact on our natural environment through trampling young habitats, overgrazing and preventing new trees from growing but it is important to understand that the impact is not simply through new damage to habitats, but that decades of herbivore impact is preventing nature recovery across some of the most nature depleted areas of Scotland.

The Deer Working Group (DWG), which was established in 2017 to review the existing statutory and non-statutory arrangements for the management of wild deer in Scotland, made ninety-nine recommendations to modernise Scotland’s systems of deer management, approximately half of which are legislative in nature. The non-legislative recommendations, which touch on almost every aspect of deer management, are being taken forward by the Scottish Government’s Strategic Deer Board, as a project under the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy Programme.

Our 2021 response to the DWG Report set out our commitment to implementing the legislative recommendations during this parliamentary term. We have been able to implement three of the legislative recommendations already, through secondary legislation. In June 2023 we laid two instruments to remove the close season for male deer (recommendation 8), which came into force on 21 October 2023, and to make changes to the minimum bullet weight for ammunition (recommendation 5) and permit the use of night sights (recommendation 7), which came into force on 03 November 2023.

Themes 2 to 6 of this consultation set out to seek views on the other legislative recommendations accepted by the Scottish Government. Given the broad range of recommendations, and the very technical nature of some of those, there are some sections of the consultation which seek your views on the intended outcome of the changes and not on the technical detail.

There are also a small number of recommendations in relation to which we are still considering our approach, predominately in the final section of this consultation document with regard to kept and farmed deer and venison dealers’ licences.

In developing our proposals to implement the recommendations made by the DWG, however, we also give consideration to what enhancement and restoration is required to improve biodiversity and about how we manage deer to help achieve this. Scotland is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, and our country’s biodiversity has been altered by centuries of habitat loss and fragmentation, management changes, development and persecution. It has been that way for so long that simply maintaining the equilibrium is in effect maintaining already damaged land. The Deer Working Group report, while comprehensive, was commissioned in 2017 and presented to Ministers in 2019, and since then the Scottish Government has set out ambitious targets for tree planting and peatland restoration alongside our commitment to the global 30 by 30 targets. It is in the context of this work that we are proposing a set of new powers for NatureScot, set out in Theme 1 of this consultation. The proposals set out in this section are in addition to the recommendations made by the Deer Working Group but we believe they are essential to our deer management capabilities.


The DWG was established by the Scottish Government in 2017, following reports by NatureScot in 2016 and the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee in 2017.

The DWG was appointed as an independent working group to review the existing statutory and non-statutory arrangements for the management of wild deer in Scotland, taking account of the position with each of the four species of wild deer and the varying circumstances across Scotland.

The DWG’s remit was to “make recommendations for changes to ensure effective deer management that safeguards public interests and promotes the sustainable management of wild deer.”

The Terms of Reference reinforced that the DWG should “consider the position with all species of wild deer in Scotland and the varying circumstances across Scotland in both the uplands and lowlands.”

The Government’s Operating Framework for the DWG noted that the DWG had “been established as a working group so that it can focus at a detailed level on the current statutory and non-statutory arrangement for deer management in Scotland, to make recommendations to fulfil the Group’s remit.”

The report was presented to Scottish Ministers by the Group in December 2019 and published in January 2020.

The recommendations made by the Group can broadly be arranged into the following aims:

  • To improve consistency in legislation and remove restrictions on where, when and how deer can be taken/killed;
  • To provide a clearer vision for deer management based on public interest within the context of the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis with clearer actions to deliver these aims;
  • To set clearer thresholds for acceptable impacts on public interests;
  • To encourage greater use of regulation, as a means of promoting wider compliance, and more focus on individual responsibility;
  • Greater equity in addressing the range of public interests impacted by deer; and
  • Access to better information.

Following the publication of the DWG report the Scottish Government asked the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission (SAWC) to consider and provide advice on any welfare impacts of the DWG recommendations.

The SAWC Report on The Management of Wild Deer in Scotland – SAWC Response to the Report of the Deer Working Group (“the SAWC report”) was published in February 2021. SAWC considered each of the recommendations they deemed to have a potential welfare consideration and in their report they recognised the need for deer culling in Scotland. Their response was supportive of the Deer Working Group recommendations.

The Scottish Government’s, A Fairer, Greener Scotland: Programme for Government 2021-22 contained the following commitment:

“We will also modernise deer management, implementing the recommendations of the Deer Management Working Group. While an iconic Scottish species, wild deer populations have been steadily increasing, and high numbers and population densities have a devastating impact on the environment. It is vital we protect tree planting, woodland regeneration and peatland restoration from further damage if we are to meet our climate change and biodiversity commitments. We will introduce a new cull return system, to ensure proportionate deer management plans, modernise existing legislation, including deer close seasons and use of specialist equipment when managing deer, and design future agricultural support schemes to encourage a reduction in grazing pressure in the uplands.”

Implementing the recommendations of the Deer Working Group is also a commitment under the Scottish Government and Scottish Green Party: Shared Policy Programme (the Bute House Agreement):

“…that the recommendations of the Deer Management Working Group will be implemented as set out in the Scottish Government’s response of March 2021...”



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