Deer are an important part of the Scottish countryside, playing a crucial role in shaping the landscape and the wildlife that lives there. They are also important for the rural economy and seeing deer while out walking is a highly valued experience. Yet if deer numbers are too high, this can cause damage to the natural environment.
Also, the management of deer through the use of fencing or through stalking activities has the potential to conflict with outdoor recreation activities.
Deer are not owned by anyone, but a landowner has the right to shoot deer on their own land.
Stalking red deer is a valuable activity for business on estates across much of the Highlands. However, without natural predators, populations of deer are too high in many parts of Scotland, causing significant damage to the environment, especially to native woodlands and peatlands, by too much browsing and trampling. They can also cause motor accidents when they stray on to roads.
Effective deer management is therefore essential to keep populations at a sustainable level and reduce their impact. The usual method for keeping deer away from new woodland planting, or from grouse moors where it is believed they can bring infected ticks which affect the birds, is to use fencing.
Deer stalking activities take place each year but if walkers use the Heading to the Scottish Hills website and take account of local, on-the-day guidance, there are rarely any conflicts between stalkers and those enjoying outdoor recreation.
The use of fencing to exclude deer from large areas of forest or grouse moor can negatively impact on public access, landscape and wildlife. Fencing can encourage higher deer numbers to congregate on adjacent areas of land and also create welfare problems for the deer as they are unable to take shelter within the woodlands.
Planning permission is only required for fences over two metres high or near to a public road, but land managers must make adequate provision for public access when fencing is installed.
Gates should be provided at intervals, and especially where paths cross the fence, but we have particular concerns over the growing use of electrified fencing. This forms an impassable barrier to access and can only be crossed at a fixed crossing point. There should be signs on deer fencing indicating the location of the nearest crossing point, fixed to the fence at regular intervals, and on electric fencing these crossing points should be at least every 500 metres.
While stiles may sometimes be provided they will be very high and this can cause difficulties for some walkers, especially when they aren’t well maintained. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code makes it clear that if no gate or stile has been provided, it is best practice to climb fences near the post to avoid causing damage.
The long term, sustainable solution to deer management is to reduce the number of deer to levels whereby trees can naturally regenerate or new woodlands get established without use of fences. Clearly there will be circumstances where fencing will be the only viable option, but in general we would expect population management to be the preferred option.
The Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee has been focusing on the issue of sustainable deer management over recent years and Scottish Natural Heritage has now published its review of deer management in Scotland. We have been working with other environment NGOs to support this action.
If you come across electrified fencing on the hills which does not comply with the suggestions above, or face problems relating to stalking activities, please let us know by emailing email@example.com.
Page updated August 2017