There could be a “mental health toll” on people if they have to cull heavily pregnant hinds, a Scottish organisation which represents professional deer managers has warned.

According to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) ordering someone to shoot pregnant hinds “represents a welfare and mental health issue for the deer manager”. 

The SGA has voiced its concerns in response to the Scottish Government’s consultant – Managing Deer for Climate and Nature.

In the consultation the government sets out a number of proposals to manage wild deer populations.

Deer management

But the SGA has said it has “significant concerns” with the government’s proposed new measures relating to deer management in Scotland, including the culling of pregnant hinds.

“Orphaned calves, when mothers are killed, become social outcasts and will die.

“There is no respect for family units in these measures, which is also a welfare issue,” it warned.

The SGA informed Scottish ministers Lorna Slater and Mairi Gougeon that it will not put its name to a Scottish government consultation on new deer proposals because of “fundamental and collective opposition”.

The ‘Managing Deer for Climate and Nature’ consultation closes this Friday (March 29).

The Scottish government is proposing a new Deer Management Nature Restoration Order (DMNRO) which will facilitate deer management for the purposes of nature restoration.

The actions of the order could include deer culling, deer fencing, detailed habitat assessment, deer counting and cull planning.

The SGA said it is also concerned proposals to force people to carry out culls, on a lowered evidence bar, may be illegal under European law.

‘Unnecessary’ orders

The SGA said its opposition to the consultation is because the orders of the Scottish government are “unnecessary”.

As well as this, the association said the proposals will mean decisions can be made by NatureScot without evidence.

NatureScot, the SGA said, “already has ample powers” to resolve deer management issues “if they have the will to use them”.

“The power is therefore, unnecessary, as this can already be achieved by existing law.”

In the consultation overview, the Scottish government said it is seeking to address issues with NatureScot’s ability to gather information and to take regulatory action and intervene to carry out deer management actions where deemed necessary.

Source: SGA

The SGA also said that clear rationale, clear objectives and evidence-based decision-making are all important in deer management and that the Scottish government’s orders “lack all of these”.

“Culls can be ordered by virtue of NatureScot ‘assessing’ (without any baseline- or need for independent assessment) that killing deer would be one key factor (how many other factors could there be and who would assess these?) in bringing about social, economic or environmental benefits from nature restoration in a given area,” the SGA said.

“This is a very wide additional power, with very wide parameters, and very narrow scrutiny.

“A requirement to consult is only that: it doesn’t prevent something being imposed against a party’s will. This is on top of it being unnecessary.”

Members of the SGA Deer Group, comprising deer stalkers and deer managers from across upland and lowland Scotland, met a week ago and concluded that they were fundamentally and collectively opposed to key issues posed by the consultation.

The SGA Deer Group said it will choose to make its case on these issues through mechanisms other than the Scottish government consultation; mechanisms which it feels will be “more responsive to practitioner views”.

Scottish consultation

The Scottish government said protecting and enhancing nature and improving animal welfare are the key aims of proposed changes to deer management legislation.

In 2023 the Scottish Parliament passed legislative changes to give authorised land managers more powers to help control the deer population including extending the period for culling male deer, allowing the use of non-lead ammunition and permitting the use of ‘night sights’ to cull deer at night.

To build on this, the government is seeking views on the following proposals:

  • Granting NatureScot additional powers to facilitate deer management for the purposes of enhancing the natural environment;
  • Changes to improve the welfare of wild deer when undertaking deer management;
  • Removing barriers for venison dealers to help expand their markets and get more venison into the food supply chain.

Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater said: “Improving our natural environment and tackling the climate crisis through tree-planting, woodland regeneration and peatland restoration would not be possible without effective deer management.

“We need to get the right balance of wild deer in the right areas to maximise the environmental benefits they can bring as part of a healthy, functioning ecosystem.

“The benefits of carefully managed wild deer populations are not just environmental.

“Deer provide important employment and social opportunities to our rural communities and they form an iconic part of Scotland’s landscape.”

Slater said the consultation is an opportunity for people across Scotland to have their say on further proposals to improve the management of deer populations and to help shape future legislation.