New rules will help to protect Scotland’s deer

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New deer management rules which came into effect last week will give more protection to Scotland’s wild deer, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has advised.

Changes to the Deer Scotland Act (1996) mean deer can no longer be culled during the close season without authorisation from SNH.

The shooting of all deer during the close season now requires a license, even when it takes place to prevent damage to farmland and woodland.

To make this change as straightforward as possible, SNH plans to issue general annual licences to allow culling to prevent damage, so landowners won’t have to apply each time deer are damaging crops or trees, but the license will specifically restrict the shooting of females at certain times of the year.

This is part of a new approach to sustainable deer management in Scotland captured by the Code of Practice on Deer Management, approved by the Scottish Parliament in December. The code sets out a wide range of reasons why deer need to be managed – for example, to prevent damage to crops, for road safety reasons and to protect damaged habitats. There are also strong social and economic reasons, including a thriving venison food industry which helps support local communities. The code is also clear about the legal requirements which must be met for animal welfare, which is a key consideration of any license application.

There is also a change in authorisations for shooting deer at night. SNH may now also authorise night shooting in the interests of public safety – for example, where there is an increased risk of deer vehicle collisions. The organisation will do this in cases where daytime culling has proved ineffective in reducing risk to public safety.

Robbie Kernahan, SNH’s head of wildlife operations, said: “These changes are important to promote animal welfare and give extra protection to female deer during the calving season.”

“We recognise the new rules will take some time for everyone to get used to. We want to ensure land managers can prevent damage to their crops or trees, but we also have to balance this with the welfare needs of the deer. So if anyone is unsure about what they need to do, I’d urge them to get in touch with us.”

For more information or for application forms, see