Joint Lowland Deer Network Scotland – Scottish Land & Estates ‘Walk and Talk’ event 8th June 2016
The joint event, started with a short series of presentations at Caddonfoot Hall, Clovenfords, before moving onto site visits at Yair Hill Forest and then onto Torwoodlee and Buckholm Estates, at the invitation of Scottish Land & Estates member, James Pringle.
After registration and tea and coffee, the event started with introductory words from Richard Cooke, Chairman of the Lowland Deer Network Scotland. Richard addressed the group (of approximately 30) on the role of the Network, particularly stressing that LDNS is a partner of Scottish Land & Estates, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission and of all the existing Deer Management Groups, and that its role is to co-ordinate co-operation between all of these partners toward the end goal of efficient Deer Management across all Lowland areas of Scotland.
The first speaker to be introduced was Anton Watson, Wildlife Management Officer from Scottish Natural Heritage, who introduced the ‘DEER CODE’and its content. The code is a key support for the voluntary Deer management approach which is still being pursued by Scottish Government, however there are areas of the code which can lead to prosecution or considerable fines. The code is concerned with:
· Deer Welfare
· Impact of Deer in the Economy
· Impact of Deer on the Environment.
The Code is set out in a manner which all Land managers can easily understand, their Legal obligations, areas which they should address or risk regulation and those actions which are considered best practice.
Next to speak was James Pringle, of Torwoodlee and Buckholm Estates who spoke about the practicalities of Deer Management on his estates, and also introduced his stalker “Innes” who gave further details of the challenges of deer management. The approach to deer management at Torwoodlee has evolved over the past years, and become far more proactive than previously. The stalking has its challenges, as it does everywhere, but the key issues faced are those concerned with public access, which include amongst other, roads, paths, mountain bikers, golf course and the new railway line.
The perspective of the National Forest Estate was than given by Colin Edwards. The level of deer management which they seek is the highest standard, and is considered to be exemplary. The level of damage accepted is a maximum of 10% and this is achieved by rigorous deer management and tends to lead to between 2-7 deer per sq/km. That said the National Forest Estate has considerable issues of public access and as such public safety must be very high on how deer management is carried out, but the maintenance of the deer population also takes into account the ability for the public to view deer. Deer populations are managed on an evidence based assessment and on a landscape basis.
The final speaker, PC Jamie Hood, Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer spoke about the role which Police Scotland can play in Deer management to assist rather than hinder the work of those managing Deer in Lowland Scotland. The prevalence of reporting of wildlife crimes is a concern, as far too few incidents are reported. Without reporting of crimes in progress (999 calls) or evidence of crimes perpetrated (101 calls) the police cannot tackle issues such as deer coursing, poaching and the like. With this there is also a need to understand that the public, on seeing a person with a rifle, or at the sound of gunshots, can report such incidents to the police which leads to unnecessary wasted police resources and disruption of deer management practices. Following some discussion on the floor, it was clear that greater and clearer communication between Police Scotland and Deer management Practitioners is needed.
Having concluded the formal part of the event, a convoy of vehicles first headed high into the Yair Forest to see the work and challenges for the National Forest Estate. Once the informal chats had finished the group then headed to Torwoodlee to view a mixed landscape of newly felled, mature and newly planted woodland, and discussed with James Pringle and his stalker, Innes, the challenges in this landscape.
The event, organised by Dick Playfair of LDNS and Rachael Wright of Scottish Land & Estates was a great success for all attending and will be being repeated in similar fashion elsewhere later this year and next, starting in South West Scotland.