CULL DEER TO PROTECT SCOTS WOODLANDS
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