Deer people – a new book that explores and illustrates the lives and interests of 24 individuals and what red deer and deer management means to them

This beautiful new book Deer People is a collaboration between artist Ian Macgillivray, photographer Glyn Satterley, and Richard Cooke, the long-time former chairman and secretary of the Association of Deer Management Groups in Scotland.

The hardback glossy publication explores the thoughts, work and the interests of 24 people in Scotland whose lives in one way or another have been or are dedicated to the UK’s largest land mammal, the red deer.

In commentary quotes and anecdotes, individual portraits and black and white photography the book paints a picture of the breadth of involvement of these 24 individuals in the world of the wild red deer. As Richard Cooke writes in his introductory paragraphs:

Those portrayed in its pages include professional stalkers and deer forest owners across the age range, the managers of conservation land, a forester, a crofter and community representative, a scientist/professional adviser, a venison dealer, a rifle maker, a chef and a Government official.”

But he admits that these are just a handful of the numerous characters on whose lives and interests the book could have drawn.

The book will be launched at the GWCT Scottish Game Fair at Scone Palace on Friday 1 July 2022 and following that will be available by mail order through the Brechin Castle Centre website or by contacting the authors (price £30.00 + £6.00 p&p).

Richard Cooke says that it was firmly the objective from the outset to make this a work about people:

“Deer, red deer especially, are constantly in the news and are always at the centre of the debate about our upland environment and what needs to be done to improve it in the light of the new imperatives – climate change and the biodiversity crisis. So much is heard about red deer numbers, densities and negative impacts that we felt it important to offer a reminder that the management of deer involves people, deer people.”

Proceeds from the sale of the book will be used to start an educational fund. It is planned that this will support a range of projects such as providing travel grants for young deer managers to experience wildlife management in other countries of the world and supporting educational initiatives within Scotland to take deer and their management into schools.

To pre-order or purchase Deer People visit the Brechin Castle Centre online shop.

Tom Turnbull, Strone Estate, Argyll, elected Chairman of ADMG

Tom Turnbull has been elected Chairman of the Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG) at the Association’s online AGM held on Wednesday 23 June 2021. His election follows the stepping down of Richard Cooke after 10 years in post as Chairman, and prior to that 17 years as the Association’s Secretary. Richard now becomes ADMG Vice-chairman, a position formerly held by Tom.

Tom Turnbull is owner, land manager, farmer and stalker of the Strone Estate, Argyll, at the head of Loch Fyne. With a background in estate management and sporting agency, he is a former Chair of the Inveraray and Tyndrum Deer Management Group and has been ADMG Vice Chairman for three years. Tom Turnbull says:

Tom Turnbull, the new Chairman of ADMG

“In taking over the helm of ADMG I am strongly aware of the challenges that we face.  I believe that Deer Management Groups have never been a more vital component in the land management of our uplands – indeed, DMGs are probably the best example of collaborative land management at landscape scale in Scotland with a crucial part to play as we tackle the climate emergency. ADMG’s role is as important as ever as we work with Scottish Government, its agencies and land managers across the uplands in ensuring that the outcomes of the Deer Working Group report as implemented on the ground are sensible, workable, and take account of the interests of all involved.”

Richard Cooke, retiring ADMG Chairman, says:

“I am proud to have been associated with this period of tremendous change across Scotland’s deer sector. I am convinced that stalking as many of us think of it will continue to have its place in this fast changing and more complex world, albeit perhaps on a different scale. Adapt we must, but equally we must hold on to the traditions and values of our past. With Tom taking ADMG forward I have every confidence that the leadership of our sector is in safe hands.”

ADMG issues ‘A Declaration for Upland Deer Management’ ahead of May elections to Scottish Parliament

After 6 May we will have a new Scottish Government and new members of the Scottish Parliament.

Deer management is complex and affects much of Scotland – upland deer, their habitat and the people who manage them are the principal concerns of the Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG) and its Deer Management Group (DMG) membership. 50 DMGs cover in excess of 3 million hectares – that’s almost half of Scotland. Their remit extends far beyond deer, embracing many associated upland issues and increasingly supports delivery of national and global commitments and targets. There are positive and negative aspects to our wild deer requiring a balance to be struck in their management.

DMGs are making good progress. The Cabinet Secretary, responding to the Deer Working Group (DWG) report, said: “I am very grateful for the work of the Deer Management Groups who have collaborated, assessed impacts, planned and put plans into effect over the period. I must also mention the gamekeepers, gillies and other deer managers, both professional and recreational, who have worked hard to make plans a reality.”

For our new and returning MSPs here are six short messages.

Seasons and deer welfare
We want our deer herd to be in the best health possible. To achieve that it must be managed.  The current system and the structure of close seasons safeguards this priority. Whilst out-of-season culling is permissible under certain conditions it is important it is granted for exceptional circumstances only.  Skilled deer managers will use their judgement and ADMG strongly advocates that all management should continue to take place within the current seasons structure wherever possible. Best Practice and a professional approach are paramount.

Deer impacts and culls
Ongoing NatureScot helicopter counts, DMG foot counts and academic research have shown that open range red deer numbers now average <10/sq km, below the target specified in the DWG report, with an estimated population of some 300,000 red deer. ADMG will continue to encourage its membership to maintain that level or less but impacts of other herbivores – sheep (which outnumber deer 2:1), hill cattle, hares, rabbits, and feral goats – must be taken into account too.  Annual culls are planned with and reported to NatureScot as normal practice and part of Deer Management Plans. A mandatory cull approval system for the setting of culls across the upland range managed by DMGs, whilst recommended by the DWG, is unnecessary.

Collaborative management and delivery at scale
Collaborative management works. The DMG system embodies this, with collaboration and consensus at its heart. The DMG structure, and the voluntary principle that underpins it, are not only delivering deer management at landscape scale but much else in addition. As expectations for what DMGs can deliver in the public interest have increased DMGs have risen to that challenge. The Scottish Government response to the DWG report says: “We recognise the strengths that the existing collaborative DMG structure delivers and the benefits this brings to many communities.”

Supporting the green agenda and climate change targets
Could another system be as effective in delivering Scotland’s climate and biodiversity targets for new woodland planting, restoring native woodland and peatland restoration?  DMGs are well aware of these targets and their role in their delivery. They know they are a vital part of the solution and are already delivering woodland expansion and peatland recovery on a wide scale. Publicly available Deer Management Plans highlight the work DMGs are doing in response to the climate emergency.

Working in the wider public interest
The NatureScot assessment process has placed DMGs under considerable scrutiny over the last six years and their capability in delivering against the broadest set of public interest criteria has been reviewed three times.  Management to limit road traffic accidents, to address rising concerns about tick-borne disease, and furthering our understanding of deer health in relation to safe, healthy food are all examples of joined-up, coordinated deer management working at scale and depth to deliver the public interest.

Underpinning the rural economy
The rural economy too has taken a hammering through the covid pandemic but, under normal circumstances, deer management contributes £35.4m in operating expenditure annually, offset by £12.5m in revenue, as well as providing more than 2,500 jobs in our remotest areas. Deer management related tourism, both high-end and affordable, is a necessary source of funding for deer management related employment.  The safe supply of venison to market is crucial as is expanding future venison markets.  All these aspects are vital elements of the upland deer management process.

ADMG and the DMGs will work with the next Scottish Government to continue to deliver on the above. We are asking for the trust and the confidence of those who will make future decisions that affect our sector to allow us to continue to do our job, in collaboration with others from across a whole spectrum of management objectives, for the benefit of future generations, and for our deer.

Richard Cooke
Chair
Association of Deer Management Groups

April 2021

ADMG statement following Scottish Government response to Deer Working Group recommendations

The Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG) has given a “cautious welcome” to the Scottish Government response to the independent Deer Working Group (DWG) report.

Richard Cooke, Chair, ADMG said:

“Whilst we will now examine each of government’s responses to the DWG report’s 99 recommendations in detail we can, I think, say that today’s announcement is far more measured and nuanced than we had anticipated.  We agreed with some of the recommendations in the report, particularly those intended to tidy up the existing legislation, but opposed others, as communicated to government at the time. It is therefore pleasing to note that some of those to which we objected have not been accepted by government.

“For example, we are relieved to see that the close season remains in place for females. The prospect that that might have been removed has caused considerable consternation through deer management ranks.  The extension of the season for male deer will be a concern to some of our membership however who will have welfare concerns if heavy culling takes place during winter months. We are also pleased that government has rejected the concept that deer management can be deployed at Local Authority level using a panel-based approach.  Indeed, government’s endorsement of the Deer Management Group (DMG) system for the upland red deer range is good to see.

“In terms of immediate concerns, on deer densities, whilst the government response states that “adopting a blanket density limit across Scotland would not be appropriate” it then accepts the DWG figure of 10/sq km as a general upper limit for areas of open range in the Highlands.  In fact, the average density is already below that figure. Would it not be preferable that all DMGs should continue to work to population densities that maintain deer at a level that is sustainable locally as is now the case with Deer Management Plan population models? Account must also be taken of other herbivores including sheep (which outnumber deer 2:1 across the Highlands), feral goats, hares and rabbits which are routinely overlooked if real progress is to be made in understanding sustainable herbivore management in the round.

“We are also concerned that government has accepted the recommendation of introducing a planned cull approval system. So far as the open range is concerned this is effectively what already happens.  The present system of cull setting by DMGs using deer management plan population models takes account of all management objectives and environmental and other public interest considerations and NatureScot staff are fully involved in this process. 

“We acknowledge that the climate emergency now overrides all other policy when it comes to Scotland’s environment, and our members have committed to climate and biodiversity action across the board – peatland restoration, woodland planting and ongoing reduction in deer densities where necessary. In this respect, and to be able to take forward the new green agenda we recognise that changes are required and indeed are already happening. 

“We understand that any legislative change for example to the Deer (Scotland) Act will be the subject of stakeholder consultation and scrutiny in the next Parliament and we look forward to engaging in that process.”

The Scottish Government response to the DWG Report is available online.  ADMG is urging members to read it and feedback with comments if they wish to ADMG@playfairwalker.com

ADMG urges public to steer clear of the deer during the cold spell

The cold snap and deep lying snow across much of upland Scotland will be taking its toll on our wild deer.

Richard Cooke, Chairman, the Association of Deer Management Groups, says:

“For the first time in some years we are experiencing a continuous and ongoing period of full snow cover.

“For the welfare of our wild red deer we are urging the public to give them a wide berth and leave them undisturbed.  When the snow freezes deer have difficulty in digging down to find vegetation and this can lead to starvation and mortalities particularly amongst last year’s calves and stags depleted after the autumn rut.

“What we can all do to help is minimise disturbance as this depletes their reserves further.

“Whilst public access should be comparatively lower due to lockdown and the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 guidelines for recreation those who do head to the hills should do everything they can to avoid disturbing the deer.”

ADMG responds to article in Independent

Following a recent article in the Observer/Guardian predominantly in relation to the deer cull in England and closure of the restaurant, catering and hospitality sector with the consequent loss of a significant market for venison, and a follow-up article in The Independent which looked at the issue more from a Scottish perspective, ADMG has issued the response below to The Independent as the background/context to the headlines is often glossed over or omitted.

Sir,

Your article about wild deer and venison raises and reinforces some important issues but has omitted some crucial background detail in relation to Scotland.

When the pandemic broke in March last year the upland deer sector was in a relatively good place. Overall red deer numbers in Scotland, due to committed culling (over 22% of the population culled annually), have shown a reducing trend over the last 20 years and are now estimated to be at an average density of less than 10/sq km, the target cited in the Independent Deer Working Group’s report to the Scottish Government.

It is worth noting too that approximately 300,000 red deer share their open hill range with 600,000 breeding sheep, and pre Covid there were estimated to be less of both species on the hills than for several decades.  Impacts from hares, feral goats and other herbivores are also part of the overall picture.

We understand that culls through Deer Management Groups are being taken as planned as far as possible. The major processors have continued to collect from estate larders and have been utilising what cold storage remains available.

It is easy to over-sensationalise how a variance of the upland deer cull, if there indeed is one because of the Covid crisis, might impact with just about a month of the hind cull left to run. The facts when we know them may show that we are in a better place than that suggested.

ADMG cannot speak for other deer species in the lowlands of Scotland but numbers of roe in particular, which are not counted, are considered to be on the increase.

Crystal ball gazing right now is probably not of huge benefit and the market for venison can only reopen fully once suppression of the pandemic allows that to happen. Culling and leaving carcasses on the hill as some have suggested in the past is certainly not an option.

Yours etc
Richard Cooke
Chairman
Association of Deer Management Groups

Both The Guardian and Independent articles are available online.

‘Snapshot’ survey of 34 Scottish stalking businesses shows over £1.1 million loss on the basis of cancellations so far

Scotland’s upland deer stalking sector delivers an annual deer cull to secure the health of the deer herd, to keep deer numbers in balance with their habitat, to limit damage to the environment and reduce deer vehicle collision numbers, and to promote carbon storage.

The sector is a major player in respect of rural tourism, in a normal year generating vital revenue for remote rural areas through sporting lets to visiting stalkers from Europe and North America, providing accommodation, generating income ‘downstream’ for shops, hotels, B & B and self-catering businesses, and securing rural employment among other benefits.

A recent survey undertaken by the Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG) demonstrates the scale to which that contribution is being challenged by restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic on travel and holiday accommodation use with 29 out of 34 businesses (85%) reporting losses to date and forecast in the region of £1.1 million.

Whilst the majority of the survey respondents reported losses from cancelled stalking of less than £20,000 a number of bigger enterprises reported far higher figures in excess of £50,000, with the highest forecasting losses of £383,500.

Richard Cooke, Chairman, the Association of Deer Management Groups says:

“Whilst small in sample, the impact of COVID-19 cuts right across our membership from those who are seeing just a few days cancelled to those whose cancellations run into weeks, and their entire letting programme.

“Only five of those who responded said they had been unaffected by the restrictions and reported no cancellations, but the message emerging is that this pandemic is hitting stalking businesses hard – and some of them very hard.

“An additional factor is that where £2.30/kg was being paid to producers for venison last year that has now dropped to an average £1/kg.  That will also have a major impact on those who rely on the venison cheque to maintain rural jobs for stalkers and ghillies, or to provide seasonal employment.

“We have undertaken this research to keep abreast of what is happening across our membership and to alert the Scottish Government to the constraints under which the sector is working. Sporting businesses generally have been excluded from Government support schemes for grants or finance and, unlike other sectors that have been granted temporary exemption, are still penalised with the burden of business rates where they do not qualify for the Small Business Bonus Scheme.  We have appealed to Ministers [see letter 16 October 2020] that this is one area that might be addressed that would deliver, at least, a small measure of assistance in this difficult time.”

New measures will “cut the legs from under stalking businesses” says ADMG Chairman Richard Cooke.

Richard Cooke, Chairman, the Association of Deer Management Groups has said that the new restrictions to stem the spread of COVID-19 particularly for accommodation announced this week by the Scottish Government will have a severe impact on Scotland’s let stalking businesses just as the stag season gets properly under way. He said:

“This really cuts the legs from under many rural businesses throughout Scotland that rely on let stalking income to fund deer management, particularly to pay the wages of regular and seasonal employees.

“The new restrictions on self-catering accommodation, requiring that only one family can stay in rented holiday accommodation at any one time, will now prevent many planned stalking visits by people from Scotland, elsewhere in the UK and abroad.

“Restrictions on vehicle sharing are also placing a challenge on the sector.

 “We undertook a survey earlier this year looking at the damage that could result from such measures and from that arrived at a figure of up to £9 million loss across Scotland’s rural sector, not including lost or devalued venison sales.

“Whilst understanding fully why these additional measures are now being put in place I will be writing to Ministers today to express what the likely effects of them will be on income for rural businesses from stalking lets, on employment and the deer cull.”

Forestry and Land Scotland out of season culling: Statement from ADMG Chairman Richard Cooke


“Forestry and Land Scotland, in responding yesterday (3 September) to criticism in a press statement by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, stated that ADMG “supported” its plan to cull hinds and calves from 1 September.  This is absolutely not the case.  We were advised of this proposal at a meeting on 31 January and accepted that the Deer Act permits this under the general authorisation and under Section 5(6).  We responded that any early culling must be in accordance with Best Practice and should not result in the orphaning of any dependent calves. 

“While ADMG acknowledges that FLS has responsibility for protecting Scotland’s woodlands and plantations from damage by deer we regard out of season culling as a regrettable necessity which is unpalatable to many in the deer management community.  FLS is an important participant across most of the DMGs and has made an excellent contribution in supporting the development of the venison industry, but we really cannot afford to have misunderstandings such as this.”

Survey shows that Scotland’s deer stalking sector will be hit hard if let stalking is not possible this year

A survey undertaken last month by the Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG), Lowland Deer Network Scotland (LDNS) and the Scottish Venison Association (SVA) has found that if there is no let stalking this year for stags, hinds, roe bucks or does then the 103 respondent businesses will lose in excess of £2,500,000. 

The research was undertaken to establish what the financial loss would be to those letting upland and lowland stalking given restrictions on UK and foreign travel under current COVID-19 regulations and social distancing rules, and how this might affect 2020/21cull plans.  The survey also wanted to establish how the loss of let stalking and potential changes to game dealer/ processor arrangements, which will be subject to reduced capacity due to the inefficiencies created by distancing requirements, might affect volumes of venison going into the food chain. The survey’s main conclusions are:

Loss of income from let stalking

  • The total amount of income estimated at risk of loss to 103 respondents covering > 800,000 ha if there is no let stalking this season is in excess of £2.5M.
  • However, if there is no or limited let stalking this season the deer cull plans of 57% of respondents (covering some 448,000 ha) would be unaffected.
  • Similarly, 51% of respondents also said that the loss of all or part of their letting income would not affect the volume of venison they put into the food chain.

Changes to venison dealer/processor arrangements and venison supply chain

  • 62% of respondents said however that if arrangements with their game dealer, including price, change they would adjust their planned cull.
  • Only 25% of respondents (covering 197,000 ha) said that their cull would be unaffected by both loss of let stalking and by changes to game dealer/venison market arrangements.

In a separate multiple-choice question asking what respondents would do if current routes to market were affected (such as no or restricted carcase collections, significant changes to price etc) the following responses were given:

  • 64 said that they would adjust their planned cull
  • 62 said that they would explore other outlets and routes to market
  • 15 said they would not be affected
  • 14 said they would consider leaving carcasses on the hill

Richard Cooke, Chairman, the Association of Deer Management Groups, said:

“This survey gives us some very valuable insight into the potential impact on deer management businesses if there were to be no let stalking in the coming season due to the fallout from Covid-19. 

“Our sample represents just under one third of the sector, so the total loss from let stalking being impossible can be estimated at around £9,000,000 before any impact from downgraded venison sales is also taken into account. This is of course the worst-case scenario, full cancellation, and hopefully the impact will be less if the Scottish Government roadmap out of lockdown proceeds as hoped. However, there will undoubtedly be some effect due to cancelled bookings and the difficulties of organising Covid-safe stalking with guests.  Whatever the degree, we must expect disruption and significant economic damage including potential job losses, both part time and seasonal, as survey respondents have flagged up. We must also recognise the loss to the wider rural economy from the income that this type of sporting tourism generates.

“As for venison, the processors have lost all their restaurant, food service and catering customers and may be sitting on unsold stock from last season.  While these markets should recover it would be unrealistic to expect that in the short term and they are therefore facing a situation of reduced demand and extra cost due to the need to incorporate social distancing within their processing operations.  The effect on price remains to be seen. 

“Producers should be in touch with their dealer to ascertain how best to manage the supply so as to spread the load to reduce the usual seasonal peaks. The Scottish Venison Association, supported by ADMG, is developing a recovery plan for discussion with the Scottish Government and ADMG is also working with other bodies to advise Scottish Government in the provision of advice on how to conduct deer management and other outdoor activities with social distancing taken into account.

“ADMG’s firm advice must be to take planned culls in full to avoid future problems with deer numbers but a high degree of cooperation with processors will be necessary to ensure that the venison supply chain can remain operable throughout the coming months.”

The full results of the survey are now online including a summary of additional comments from respondents.

Further information from:
Dick Playfair
Playfair Walker
Tel: 0131 445 5570
E: richard@playfairwalker.com