Progress on creating and implementing effective deer management plans across Scotland is too slow and some deer management groups lack public accountability, according to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee.
In a letter to the Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, the Committee unanimously calls on deer management groups (the voluntary system for managing red deer) to have plans in place by the end of 2016, or face further action should the voluntary approach fail.
Convener of the Committee, Rob Gibson MSP said:
“There is no doubt that this is a controversial subject with strong views on either side of the debate.
“What was clear from the evidence our Committee heard was that we need deer management groups to be effective and environmentally responsible, bringing in all interests, not just those of landowners.
“At the moment, the picture is patchy and inconsistent.
“The Committee considers that there is no definitive evidence of the need to introduce a statutory duty of sustainable deer management for deer management groups at this point in time. However, if all deer management groups do not get their act together, this Committee will have no choice but to recommend further action.”
Outlined in a letter to the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, the Committee has made wide ranging and unanimous conclusions, including:
- Committee concurs with the agencies that it is the impacts of deer rather than their absolute numbers that is most important when considering appropriate approaches to deer management.
Impacts of Deer - environmental
- In some areas there is a need to implement further practical measures to protect the biodiversity of designated sites and the wider landscape and environment. The Committee would be interested to hear from the Government on any research on the impacts of deer out-with designated sites, and the impacts on the natural heritage of changing herbivore numbers in our uplands, following declines in the number of hill sheep.
Impacts of Deer – economic and social
- The Committee urges the Scottish Government to undertake work to assess the impacts of different deer management approaches on local jobs and on rural communities.
- The Committee did not take evidence on the wider impacts of deer but would be interested to hear from the Scottish Government of any research on the impacts of deer on the road network and impacts of deer on the urban environment.
Code of Practice
- The Committee believes that as the Code has only been in place for a relatively short time it is premature to make a judgement as to how effective it is going to be. The Committee considers that there is no definitive evidence of the need to introduce a statutory duty of sustainable deer management for deer management groups at this point in time. However, the Committee will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the Code and will review its success in generating changes in deer management before the end of the session.
SNH powers of intervention
- The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government undertakes an assessment of the effectiveness of section 7 agreements, as part of the forthcoming review of the current wild deer strategy, and informs the Committee of the outcome.
- The Committee heard that the (as yet untested) section 8 powers may soon be used for the first time. The Committee looks forward to receiving an update from the Government on the application and outcome of the use of this power. The Committee would encourage SNH and the Scottish Government to make full use of section 8 powers where voluntary agreement cannot be secured or where environmental damage is persisting. The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government undertake an assessment of how workable section 8 powers are given that they as yet remain unused, and informs the Committee of the outcome.
Operation and effectiveness of Deer Management Groups
- The Committee considers that the current and predicted pace of movement towards all deer management groups (DMGs) having demonstrably effective and environmentally responsible management plans in place is too slow.
- The Committee considers that a reasonable timeframe for all DMGs to have adopted such deer management plans is by the end of 2016. The Committee will monitor progress in this respect and will consider what further action may be required, should the voluntary approach fail, to ensure that deer management plans are adopted and implemented by all deer management groups by the end of 2016. Those plans should be environmentally responsible and demonstrate how they are delivering positive outcomes for deer populations and for the natural heritage. The Committee recommends that all deer management plans should also be publically available.
- The Committee is concerned that the work of some deer management groups is insufficiently transparent and publically accountable. The Committee is also concerned that some groups may be failing to include stakeholders with the necessary local knowledge, interest and expertise in deer management. The Committee recommends that meetings of these groups are held locally and the Committee considers it is vital that those with practical knowledge and expertise both in deer and habitat management, such as gamekeepers, stalkers, and ecologists, are active participants in deer management groups. The Committee also considers that wider community interests should be represented on deer management groups with the inclusion of local community representatives.
- The Committee recognises that there may, at times, be a need for some matters to be considered in private, however the Committee expects a significant proportion of these meetings to be open and accessible to all interested bodies and individuals. The Committee recommends that, as is good practice, details of agendas, papers and minutes of meetings are published. The Committee urges the Scottish Government to ensure that the meetings of all deer management groups are effectively publicised and open to all and recommends that SNH supports this work. The Committee also expects each deer management group to consider the appropriate number and frequency of meetings required to facilitate the development and implementation of its deer management plan and support the effective operation of the group. The Committee will monitor progress on the establishment and operation of these groups and consider what further action may be required.
Review of current wild deer strategy
- The Committee would welcome further information on the scope, timing and process of the forthcoming review of the wild deer strategy and information on deer management in other European countries, when available.
The Committee undertook two evidence sessions on the 13 and 20 November to look at the issues on how deer are managed and heard from a number of stakeholders including Scottish Natural Heritage, Cairngorms National Park Authority, Dr John Milne, former Chair of the Deer Commission, Forest Enterprise Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, John Muir Trust, RSPB Scotland, Association of Deer Management Groups, Scottish Gamekeepers Association and Scottish Land and Estates.