Scottish Daily Mail - - DAILY MAIL CAMPAIGN - By Richard Baynes

CON­SER­VA­TION char­i­ties have warned ef­forts need to be stepped up to curb ris­ing red deer numbers in or­der to hit key en­vi­ron­men­tal tar­gets.

It comes af­ter gov­ern­ment wildlife agency Scot­tish Nat­u­ral Her­itage ad­mit­ted it would prob­a­bly miss key bio­di­ver­sity goals be­cause of the animals’ grow­ing pop­u­la­tion.

A coali­tion of con­ser­va­tion groups has called for a greater sense of ur­gency on the is­sue in or­der to pro­tect wood­land and peat­land.

It says Scot­tish Nat­u­ral Her­itage (SNH) needs greater pow­ers to deal with landown­ers who do not play their part on curb­ing deer numbers.

SNH sub­mit­ted a re­port yesterday to Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment min­is­ters on its progress.

It is es­ti­mated the main High­land red deer range now has about 400,000 of the animals, com­pared to less than half that num­ber in the 1960s.

They graze on young trees, stop­ping them be­com­ing es­tab­lished, and eat the plants and shrubs that could grow be­low the wood­land canopy.

Con­ser­va­tion­ists say wood­lands – a vi­tal part of the strat­egy to com­bat car­bon emis­sions – will never re­cover un­less deer numbers are cut dra­mat­i­cally.

In 2016, when it last re­ported to Holy­rood on deer man­age­ment, SNH was crit­i­cised by MSPs for not tak­ing a tough enough line against landown­ers who let deer numbers in­crease.

SNH has been work­ing with deer man­age­ment groups, made up of landown­ers in each area, to turn things around. The lat­est re­port, pub­lished yesterday, says ‘sig­nif­i­cant’ progress has been made in deer man­age­ment plan­ning, with signs of im­prove­ment on the ground.

But it adds: ‘Three of the five Scot­tish bio­di­ver­sity strat­egy route map 2020 tar­gets in which deer man­age­ment has a role are un­likely to be de­liv­ered. The na­tive wood­land con­di­tion and restora­tion tar­gets show in­suf­fi­cient progress and should be a pri­or­ity for fu­ture fo­cus.’

Four of Scot­land’s big­gest na­ture char­i­ties – the John Muir Trust, RSPB Scot­land, the Scot­tish Wildlife Trust and Trees for Life – have wel­comed im­prove­ments in the way deer man­age­ment groups are run. But they warned: ‘A step change is needed if cli­mate and bio­di­ver­sity tar­gets are to be met.’

Dun­can Orr-Ewing, of RSPB Scot­land, chairs a spe­cial deer task force. He said: ‘We need a sense of ur­gency to pro­tect and re­store our wood­lands and peat­lands and that means tack­ling the de­struc­tive im­pact of our his­tor­i­cal legacy of un­sus­tain­ably high deer den­si­ties.’

SNH head of wildlife man­age­ment Rob­bie Ker­na­han said: ‘SNH is com­mit­ted to tak­ing a lead role in fur­ther work to en­sure Scot­land’s deer are sus­tain­ably man­aged.’

Richard Cooke, chair­man of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Deer Man­age­ment Groups, said many projects were be­ing im­ple­mented.

He added: ‘We ac­knowl­edge, how­ever, there is more to do, par­tic­u­larly in re­la­tion to na­tive wood­land restora­tion, but we will need more help from the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment and its agen­cies to be able to do this.’

‘We need a sense of ur­gency’

Threat: Red deer numbers have dou­bled since 1960s

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