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.


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
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

Coronavirus and deer management

Everyone will be aware of the current situation and restrictions on movement that are in place at least for the next three weeks.

It is vital that everyone takes steps to minimise social and business interaction to reduce the transmission of Covid-19 and, wherever possible and for as long as Government stipulates, to STAY AT HOME

SNH has made available the following guidance for deer managers:

The clear message from Government and health professionals is to stay at home unless you are involved in an essential activity. In the fight back against Covid-19 deer managers should not therefore be travelling to go stalking. Deer stalking at this time is not an essential activity and undertaking stalking does carry a risk of accidents. Responding to and dealing with any incident will put the emergency services and NHS under further pressure.

Further to this ADMG is recommending deer managers should:

  • consider whether work such as Habitat Impact Assessments, training, or other activity, even if this takes place out of doors, is essential or whether it can be postponed.
  • postpone any non-essential face-to-face meetings including DMG meetings. There are online platforms that can be effectively used for small meetings such as Skype or Teams.
  • avoid all non-essential travel.
  • avoid any activity that might, through accident or error, place additional pressure on any of the emergency services.
  • check the Covid-19 Support for Businesses, Guidance for Employees, employers and businesses and other pages for notifications of measures that could help your business.

Carcase collection from larders will be affected as processors respond to the current situation. However, the Scottish Government through Scotland Food and Drink has said that businesses involved in food supply should remain open if possible, subject to being able to adhere to two requirements:

  • safe social distancing practice.
  • normal health and safety requirements.

We will issue further updates as information is made available.

ADMG AGM cancelled due to Coronavirus

A message from Richard Cooke, Chairman, ADMG

We have been keeping a close eye on the development of Coronavirus in the UK and clearly the potential epidemic is accelerating.  That being so we have reluctantly taken the precautionary decision to postpone the ADMG AGM which was due to take place on Wednesday 18 March at the Drumossie Hotel, Inverness. 

In the circumstances it is difficult to plan a new date at this juncture but we hope to be able to reschedule for the Autumn and will circulate details in due course.

It is most unfortunate that, in the middle of the Scottish Government Deer Review process, we are unable to meet, particularly as we really require to discuss the recent SNH and Deer Working Group reports with members.  What we propose to do therefore is to put on the ADMG website next week (with links through e-Scope):

  • Minutes of the 2019 AGM
  • Chairman’s Annual Report
  • Annual Accounts to 30 June 2019
  • Address by Francesca Osowska, CEO, SNH
  • The ADMG submission to Scottish Government on the DWG Report recommendations.

Also: We will also hold back the afternoon seminar in the expectation that it can be carried forward to the new AGM date.

You will also receive by post directly or through your DMG the AGM issue of our newsletter Scope and our 2019 Annual Review. These will also be available on this website or via this link .

I do apologise for any inconvenience or travel disruption caused by this relatively late but hopefully sensible decision to cancel.

Absolutely the right time for ADMG to stage its upland deer management event at Scottish Parliament

The Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG) staged an event at the Scottish Parliament on 3 March 2020 hosted by Stewart Stevenson MSP and titled Upland deer management. The voluntary approach: rising to the challenge.

The event was held following the most recent SNH review of deer management published in November 2019, and the report of the Scottish Government appointed Deer Working Group earlier this year. A key objective of the event was to help to inform MSPs, officials and others about the significant progress made by Scotland’s upland Deer Management Groups, and the objectives of ADMG going forward.

The event was attended by around 50 representatives of the sector including DMGs, SNH, Forestry and Land Scotland, and other organisations and NGOs including the Woodland Trust (representing Scottish Environment LINK) involved in upland deer management.

L to R: Stewart Stevenson MSP; Richard Cooke, ADMG; Marie Gougeon, Rural Affairs Minister; Ross Johnston, SNH

Speaking afterwards Richard Cooke, Chairman, ADMG, said:

“This was exactly the right time to hold this event given where the upland deer sector is right now in terms of review, in being alert to the climate emergency announced last year by the First Minister and in promoting the positives to our membership going forward, and the measures that they can deliver.  The remit of voluntary deer management in our uplands is changing, and has changed significantly in the last 20 years, but DMGs are now in most cases best placed in upland areas to deliver the work on the ground to address the climate challenge – peatland restoration and woodland planting and regeneration for example – with many already doing so.

“I am grateful to Marie Gougeon MSP, Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, for taking the time to come and talk to us, and also to her MSP colleagues who attended for taking an interest.  Thank you also to Stewart Stevenson for his part in making this important event happen.”

Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon said:

“There is no doubt that considerable progress has been made in Scotland with deer management plans, habitat assessment, training for recreational stalkers and protection of the public interest generally.

“We are all aware that more remains to be done to ensure that our natural environment is resilient. This event was a good opportunity to discuss the issues we face and how together we can help tackle climate change through nature-based solutions such as tree-planting and peatland restoration.

An attentive audience for the presentations

Ross Johnston, Deputy Director of Sustainable Development, SNH, who also spoke at the event, said that SNH recognised the value from progressive, collaborative approaches to managing deer and the benefits that the best performing DMGs could deliver for people and nature. Also, that SNH recognised the significant efforts made by DMGs in delivering improvements identified through the assessment process and that those SNH staff involved saw this on the whole as a positive and constructive exercise. Looking ahead he said;

“This is happening at a time when approaches to regional land use planning are being developed, post EU exit funding and future agricultural support is being considered, and when natural capital approaches are becoming more advanced. These are all potentially significant in how Scotland’s land and deer are managed in the future. Deer managers should be alert and consider making the case for support for sustainable deer management as future funding schemes are being shaped.”

Speaker notes from the event are available via these links:
Marie Gougeon MSP, Rural Affairs Minister
Richard Cooke, Chairman, ADMG
Ross Johnston, SNH

Statement from ADMG re publication of Deer Working Group Report

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

“Many of the recommendations contained in the Deer Working Group (DWG) report published today concern tidying up and updating current legislation, and these are broadly welcome.

“But fundamentally this report is about further heavy reductions in deer numbers which would have a devastating effect on an important rural industry in the remoter parts of Scotland and there is a real danger if we continue to demonise deer that we overlook the multiple other impacts on our environment. Sheep for example, despite heavy reductions, still outnumber deer 2 to 1 across the hills of northern Scotland and share their habitat with deer.  Let’s also not forget the significant value of deer as an asset not least in terms of tourism and as a healthy food source.

“We also question repeated calls for a drastic cull when our red deer densities as cited in SNH’s report Assessing progress in deer management published just in November last year are now down to an average of 9.3 per sq km which is already less than the maximum proposed in the Deer Working Group report.

“The DWG report also recommends a much higher level of government intervention which will come at considerable public cost – and a great deal more engagement from SNH than there is at present. Our view is that across the upland deer range the collaborative deer management group (DMG) system under the voluntary principle is proven and working increasingly well. While other management models may be appropriate in other parts of Scotland the DMGs are a vital part of any solution. The latest SNH report to Scottish Government supports this.

“Whilst there is always room for improvement the DMG system is rising to the challenge and delivering against ambitious climate change targets where it has a major role to play, both in terms of peatland restoration and native woodland expansion for example.”

The ADMG paper Rising to the challenge outlining our vision for the future management of wild deer in Scotland’s uplands is available. 

Deer in Scotland – another point of view

An ADMG response to the recently published Scottish Environment LINK proposal Managing deer for climate, communities and conservation.

We support some of the objectives of this document, which are also Scottish Government climate emergency policy objectives.  Indeed, most Deer Management Groups (DMGs) are already delivering peatland restoration and woodland expansion on a wide and increasing scale, alongside a steady reduction in the open hill red deer population.  Where we may diverge is in the means to that end proposed by LINK which would amount to a halving, at least, in the population of our native red deer. This would not address all the issues identified and would have a major impact on rural employment. 

We do not think it has to be a case of trees OR deer; it can be a matter of trees AND deer.

There is a common cause for all interests in working together towards a carbon neutral Scotland.  Many LINK organisation members are active participants in Deer Management Groups (DMGs); we have recently recruited a LINK representative to the ADMG Executive Committee and can therefore hopefully look forward to constructive collaboration in future.  What is certain is that when it comes to managing red deer, collaboration, within the DMGs, is essential to achieving the best outcomes for all stakeholders, whatever their objectives.

Firstly, the LINK document states that in 2010 “red deer numbers reach an all time high of 400,000” but fails to recognise that the SNH report Assessing progress in deer management (September 2019) cites that the density of deer in 2019 is estimated to be about 9.35 deer km2, or its lowest level for some considerable time.

LINK in its document sets out Ten public benefits of a new approach on which our comments are as follows:

1. More trees
We are very much in favour of more trees and understand the climate and environmental benefits.  The DMGs are already coordinating projects involving woodland expansion and native woodland restoration and there is much more to come.

2. Healthier peatlands
Here too the DMGs are setting a lead in peatland restoration projects.  Most of the 19,000ha of peatlands restored in Scotland to date have been in areas covered by DMGs.

3. More rural jobs
It is difficult to follow the logic of a ‘less deer more jobs’ approach.  Certainly, many of the full time employed resident deer management roles would be lost if the deer population became insufficient to support deer stalking businesses, which is how much deer management is currently funded.  ‘Hunting’ is an important strand of Scotland’s tourism offer, particularly out of season, and supports many downstream jobs.  The 2016 PACEC report commissioned by ADMG which is referred to by LINK estimated the employment impact of deer management in Scotland as 2532 jobs in total which equates to 845 FTEs of which 124 were unpaid, ie vocational deer managers.  The economic value is £140.8m, much of which benefits remoter areas with little other economic activity.  We reject the argument by LINK to the effect that this economic contribution is too little to matter in the context of overall nature-based tourism.

It is disingenuous to claim that NGO properties generate more economic activity than deer estates.  Both NGO and privately-owned estates support many economic activities, not just deer management.  Many NGO jobs are research related, often with public funding support.  This is to compare apples and pears.

4. Reduced rural inequality
The ‘community model’ is already the norm in many parts of the Scottish lowlands particularly where many vocational hunters undertake most of the local deer management at no cost.  It is an appropriate approach for the management of territorial deer species such as roe deer but much more difficult for the herding red deer where a coordinated and collaborative approach to a shared resource, based on a deer management plan, as in a DMG, is most effective.  In many parts of the Highlands those who have responsibility for deer management ARE the community and the trickle down effect of deer management to local businesses is a key element of the community based economy.  There are also many seasonal jobs associated with deer management.  It is sometimes said that deer stalking is “exclusive”, an activity for the rich.  This is not so.  While there is a high end to the stalking market which generates much of the revenue for deer management, there are opportunities across the country for interested individuals to become involved in managing deer locally, at little if any cost.  Even accompanied stalking for red deer can be readily accessed for as little as £250 per day.

5. Reduced need for fencing
All herbivores will browse trees and eat seedlings in regenerating woodland if unprotected.  Even if there were no deer, much stock and rabbit proof fencing, (two thirds of the cost of a full deer fence), would still be required.  Despite the steep reduction in sheep numbers since the millennium there are still 600,000 breeding sheep sharing the hill with less than 300,000 red deer, and hares and rabbits are also plentiful in some areas.

6. Improved deer welfare
Living in open habitats does not necessarily imply that deer welfare is compromised. It is true that hill living deer do not reach the size and body weights of woodland deer.   Equally, hill breeds of sheep are less productive but much hardier than their enclosed lowland cousins.  Both have adapted to their environment and are acclimatised to it.  A visit to any venison dealer will generally reveal healthy carcases carrying layers of fat.  Like any other animals, including domestic livestock, otherwise healthy animals can suffer privation and sometimes die in exceptional weather conditions.  However, the pattern of milder winters experienced as a result of climate change has made such winters rare (2017 was an exception) and generally natural mortalities are negligible for a wild species, <1% of population.  In addition, a population culled selectively at rates of over 20% has a high level of general health with few old or sickly animals.  The health and welfare of our wild deer herd is generally excellent.

7. Safer rural roads
Numerically the majority of deer/vehicle collisions (DVCs) occur in the more populated areas of central Scotland, although collision with a red deer is more likely to have severe consequences.  Research has not indicated a direct linear relationship between deer numbers and DVCs but it is agreed that they are a real matter of public safety concern.  Other than deer numbers there are other factors at work which draw deer to roads (eg unfenced woodland, verges sown out to grass or salting in winter months) or which enclose them on roads (eg roadside fences with no buffer zone) and thus increase risk.  These additional risk factors can be mitigated at road and woodland design stage.

8. Fewer ticks
This may now be wishful thinking as tick numbers have increased greatly in Scotland and they are to be found in all environments including city gardens, having become as endemic as midges.  This is thought to be due to climate factors but there is little doubt that mammals (including wild deer) and birds are responsible for their distribution out of the relatively few and small hotspots of past years.  It is unlikely that they can now be eradicated and a reduction in deer numbers would be unlikely to have a noticeable effect.  The focus must now be on mitigating the risks to human health.

9. A cut in greenhouse gases
The methane output and CO2 figures from LINK are new to ADMG and we would like to see the calculations.  The extended logic of this argument suggests that the world would have a better future if all methane/CO2 producing mammals, cattle in particular, were removed and this is of course a strand in current thinking, but that is surely too big a matter to just hang on Scottish wild deer which are understood to be relatively low emitters of methane.

10. A stronger venison industry
This argument really does not stand up. Of course, a national reduction cull to halve the red deer herd would increase the supply of venison for as long as it took to achieve the reduction but this would create a short term glut, probably leading to a fall in value, followed by a serious shortage for a commodity where supply is already in decline.

The Scottish Environment LINK document Managing deer for climate, communities and conservation is available.

ADMG’s Forward Look outlining its view on future deer management in the Uplands is available.