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.
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.”
In a letter to the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, outlined the wide-ranging and unanimous conclusions the committee came to. In particular, the committee concurred 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
The committee noted that 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. It stated it would be interested to hear from the Government on any research on the impacts of deer outside of designated sites, and the impacts on the natural heritage of changing herbivore numbers in the Scottish uplands, following declines in the number of hill sheep.
Impacts of deer – economic and social
The committee urged the Scottish Government to undertake work to assess the impacts of different deer management approaches on local jobs and on rural communities. It did not take evidence on the wider impacts of deer but again expressed an interest in hearing 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 expressed the belief 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.
It stated: “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.”
On the operation and effectiveness of deer management groups the committee said that the current and predicted pace of movement towards all DMGs having demonstrably effective and environmentally responsible management plans in place is too slow. It considers that a reasonable timeframe for all DMGs to have adopted such deer management plans is by the end of 2016. It said it will monitor progress in that respect and 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, says the committee, should be “environmentally responsible and demonstrate how they are delivering positive outcomes for deer populations and for the natural heritage”.
The committee also recommended that all deer management plans should also be publically available, amid concerns that the work of some deer management groups is insufficiently transparent and publically accountable. The committee also expressed concern that some groups may be failing to include stakeholders with the necessary local knowledge, interest and expertise in deer management and recommended that meetings of the groups be held locally, while recognising that there may, at times, be a need for some matters to be considered in private.
The letter stated: “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 Scottish Natural Heritage 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.”
It concluded by asking for further information on deer management in other European countries.