New Year’s honour for Scotland’s Venison Ambassador

Pioneering venison ambassador, Nichola Fletcher, of Reediehill Deer Farm in Fife, has been awarded an MBE for her services to the venison industry.

An award-winning food writer, Nichola has worked tirelessly to educate people about venison, its health aspects as well as how to prepare and cook it. Having worked with both wild and farmed venison for over forty years, she is regarded as Britain’s pre-eminent expert on all aspects of venison.

On hearing that she had been awarded the MBE, Nichola said:

“When you spend your life trying to make people listen to you, it’s sometimes quite a surprise when you discover that someone actually was listening after all!  I am just thrilled that my work with venison should have been so honoured and it’s great to be working in an area I feel so passionately about.  There’s still so much for people to learn about venison and I’m always trying to place it at the forefront of peoples’ minds.”

Originally trained as a goldsmith (a skill she still practices), Nichola’s work with venison started when she met and married Dr John Fletcher, a specialist deer vet and pioneer of deer farming in Europe. Together they started Fletchers of Auchtermuchty which became a by-word for seriously good venison amongst enthusiastic foodies all over the country.  The farm went on to act as a model for venison farms across the world.

A diverse range of people and organisations across the UK and internationally have benefitted from Nichola’s help: from national bodies like Scottish Natural Heritage or the Ministry of Defence to individual stalkers and member of the general public.

Nichola continues to run tailored venison and game tastings, cookery demonstrations and practical workshops. She acts as a consultant for venison businesses and is available for writing and broadcasting commissions on the subject.

Nichola Fletcher is a member of the Guild of Food Writers and has written seven food books, including Nichola Fletcher’s Ultimate Venison Cookery which won the award for the best single-subject cookery book in the world in 2007.

Report on the Deer Management Debate at the Rural Affairs Climate Change and Environment Committee – 20 November 2013

The RACCE Committee of the Scottish Parliament met this week for its second session gathering evidence on deer management and the environment. The panel consisted of Robbie Kernahan (SNH), Simon Hodge (Forest Enterprise Scotland) Will Boyd Wallis (Cairngorms National Park Authority) and Professor John Milne (former chairman of DCS).

As in the previous session the range of questions was broad – deer numbers; the impact of deer on designated sites and features as well as the impact of other herbivores; whether a licensing scheme for DMGs would work; the effectiveness of existing legislation and the Code; inclusiveness and transparency of DMGs and, ultimately, whether the current voluntary deer management system is working.

Numbers of deer inevitably received some attention although both Robbie Kernahan and John were keen to stress that impacts were of far greater importance. Robbie Kernahan said that his calculation of the deer population needed to achieve the present level of sporting cull of around 15,000 stags per annum was 112,000 stags, 112,000 hinds and around 33,000 calves – 257,000 total. His written evidence includes a table of the most recent SNH aerial deer counts showing a total of 275,000.

Nigel Don MSP wanted to know more about discrete deer populations, how far they would migrate and whether a map existed to show where these populations were. It was explained that, broadly speaking, DMGs had been set up to reflect discrete local populations and that the overall range is best illustrated by the ADMG map

John Milne cited Caenlochan as a situation where a sub-population was being managed, and that effective management locally was more important than attempting to manage red deer across Scotland as a whole.

Simon Hodge said that the some 9 per cent of Scotland was managed under the National Forest Estate, and this accounted for around one third of Scotland’s total deer cull.

Robbie Kernahan said that a key role of SNH, and for ADMG, was to help deer groups come to terms with how they could reconcile different and often conflicting objectives. The role of DMGs was changing from where their primary task had been jointly to agree and execute their cull to meeting a range of objectives in both their own and the public interest including carbon sequestration and climate change as well as environmental and conservation targets. He said that DMGs should provide a framework for mature discussion, compromise and consensus with all members having a shared responsibility.

There was concern that the environmental voice alongside others representing the public interest was not getting a welcome or a fair hearing at DMGs, to which Robbie Kernahan said that “a significant cultural shift” had taken place and that there were many examples of good DMGs.

Will Boyd Wallis said that he too had seen dramatic change over the last 20 years, and there was now a far greater “spirit of trust, understanding and cooperation” and that ADMG’s recently published guiding principles had been a very positive step forward.


Simon Hodge echoed this, but suggested it might be helpful to have broader representation at DMG meetings, including farming and crofting interests. Will Boyd Wallis suggested that DMGs might consider an AGM that members of the wider public could attend. Robbie Kernahan said that ADMG was providing the lead nationally, and what was required was the capacity within DMGs in turn to become more effective.

There was some discussion over whether enough DMGs had deer management plans and whether those that did actually used them. Angus Macdonald MSP suggested a licensing system to censure those that did not do so, although it was questioned how such a system could work in practice.

Rob Gibson MSP, the Committee Chairman, revisited his correspondence with Corrour where a figure of 55 deer per sq km had been cited. Robbie Kernahan however called this a “snapshot in time” and that there was a danger in reading too much into a single figure as this would by no means represent an average over the ground which is very much less in that area.

Jim Hume MSP wanted to know about how the impact of deer on designated sites and features was assessed and evaluated. Robbie Kernahan said that in a Scottish context over 80 per cent of features were in stable or improving condition although some concerns remained for certain areas of woodland and peatland SACs. However it would be unreasonable to expect a 100 per cent record. The Scottish Government target is 95 per cent. There had been progress over the last three years. LINK had said that to have a deer management plan would constitute enough to change the status of a site to ‘recovering’, However Robbie Kernahan said that whilst a plan was important, the vital element was that management prescriptions as outlined in the plan were being deployed.

In response to a question from Angus Macdonald MSP, Robbie Kernahan said that SNH resources had to be channeled into areas at most risk such as designated sites or in the public interest (such as RTAs). Priorities were resource driven, and that not all issues were in relation to red deer (for example 350 roe deer had been shot in one year on Mar Lodge).

Simon Hodge said that roe accounted for 40 per cent of the FE cull, red deer 40 per cent, and other species the balance. John Milne said that roe were an increasing issue with the planting of new woodlands particularly through the Central Belt. Cara Hilton MSP raised the question of effective deer management over low ground areas.

Alex Fergusson MSP wanted to know how effective the Code had been over its 18 months lifespan. Robbie Kernahan said that the Code placed a responsibility on all landowners although it had been dismissed in the previous evidence session as a “red herring”. Whilst it was not legally binding it did represent the first time such responsibilities had been placed on land managers.

As most DMGs only meet twice a year then the Code was still new to many but that ”the penny has dropped”. John Milne however thought the Code was “anodyne” and “not very helpful”.

A number of MSPs wanted to know why there had been no deer panels or Section 7s or 8s implemented since the Act. Robbie Kernahan gave an update, advising that only one, Mar Lodge, had been implemented since the Act, but that two new Section 7s were imminent.

He said however that Section 7s and 8s were “resource hungry” both in terms of staff time and financial cost, and the fact that there were very few implemented could be seen as a reflection that they were there as a last resort. The Caenlochan Section 7 had shown just how effective the system could be. John Milne pointed out that a Section 7 could only be deployed where there was a designated site.

Claire Baker MSP wanted to know if the current deer management system was robust enough given the wider issues of climate change and land reform.

Simon Hodge said that it was beneficial to have greater clarity of expectation on land managers, that the Code needed to be “unpacked” and that it could be used to create a more collaborative environment. ADMG’s 6 principles were vital to moving forward and achieving consensus.

It was agreed that more inclusiveness was important, and that ADMG has a key role in bringing its members up to speed. Robbie Kernahan said it would be helpful if SNH could provide more support, but that DMGs had never before been asked to be proactive about sharing what they do, publishing plans or having websites, and that there was not always the capacity within DMGs to do this. Funding for DMGs was discussed and it was advised that uptake of previous funding streams through the SRDP, because Groups could not apply, had been poor (totaling just £190,000 across 14 applications).

Rob Gibson MSP said that conversely estates should possibly be paying sporting rates for the benefit of having deer on their ground and the ability to ‘take’ them.

John Milne said that in his view the solution lay in changing the status of deer, and this would require a change in the law. Rob Gibson asked if there were other countries with a model that could be followed in Scotland. Robbie Kernahan said this had been addressed by an SNH study in 2010 and, not surprisingly, the Scottish system was unique.

Overall it was a fair debate. The majority of the panel remained in favour of the current system but that it could be improved, particularly if SNH was better resourced. The Committee gave little away although, despite the strength of evidence presented over the two sessions, they do I suspect remain highly sceptical that ‘voluntary’ can deliver, let alone that ‘voluntary’ is best. It is difficult to gauge where this goes next, but certainly the effectiveness of DMGs, the current system, and the uptake of the Code will be in the spotlight for some time to come.

ADMG describes Scottish Parliament Committee Enquiry session into the impact of deer on Scotland’s natural heritage as fair and frank

Following the first morning of the Scottish Parliament Rural, Climate Change and Environment Committee enquiry into the Review of the impact of deer on Scotland’s natural heritage, Richard Cooke, Chairman of the Association of Deer Management Groups, said that he felt the Committee had been “fair and frank” in its approach.

Questions from the Committee ranged across a number of areas in taking evidence from representatives of both NGOs and land management organisations. Richard Cooke said:

“Clearly there is a broad divergence of opinion on the actual number of red deer in Scotland that we would regard largely as an irrelevance as it is their impact and the carrying capacity of the ground that is important.

“We were keen to impress that this enquiry comes very soon, too soon, after the implementation of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act and the supporting Code on Deer Management. It was pointed out to the Committee that the Code has not yet had 18 months to bed in, whilst the sector at the same time is engaged with other activities such as developing deer management planning and satisfying new competence expectations.”

Richard Cooke, who is also Chairman of the Lowland Deer Network Scotland, said that Deer Management Groups (DMGs) were well aware of the obligations placed on them by the Act and the voluntary Code and that ADMG is currently addressing improving the effectiveness of DMGs in a number of areas including production of up to date and forward looking deer management plans, a statement of commitment to the Code, and regular well attended meetings with representation of all land management interests and appropriate public agencies.

He said that it was reasonable to expect that every DMG that could benefit from a deer management plan should have one in place in the medium term – 5 years.  In summing up, Richard Cooke said:

“ADMG considers that the deer sector has acknowledged the challenge to demonstrate that voluntary deer management as we have now is fit for purpose and, taken as a whole, we are making steady progress in implementing the Code at DMG level.  This is evidenced by the majority of DMGs and sub groups that are preparing or reviewing deer management plans and are in the process of bringing deer management and environmental impacts together in implementing habitat assessments.

“DMG meetings must be open to all those with a direct interest in local deer management and ADMG is encouraging member groups to set up liaison arrangements with external interests and local community interests in particular – in response to the Act and the Code, and prior to the implementation of this enquiry.  ADMG is therefore confident that, when the Code comes to be reviewed by SNH then good and continuing progress will be demonstrable.”

Also giving evidence for the land management organisations were Scottish Land & Estates and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. RSPB Scotland, JMT and the Scottish Wildlife Trust gave evidence for the NGOs.


ADMG response to Scottish Wildlife Trust/John Muir Trust statement on deer


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

“It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT)/John Muir Trust (JMT) statement, following hard on the heels of Rob Gibson’s call for statutory Deer Management Groups (DMGs) after his visit to the JMT property at Assynt, amounts to a coordinated campaign to put this old chestnut back on the agenda. One could also mention the Forest Policy Group’s proposal for a licensing system.

Only two years ago the Scottish Parliament, in passing the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act (WANE), took the view that the voluntary basis of deer management was fit for purpose, despite the best efforts of JMT and others to persuade them otherwise. The harking back to pre WANE opinions takes no account of the substantial process of change that is occurring in the deer sector, most notably the willing adoption of the Code of Practice for Deer Management, and the setting up of the Lowland Deer Network at the instigation of ADMG in 2011.

JMT, with its ideological objection to temporary fencing, despite itst successful use of it on Knoydart, seems determined to opt for conflict rather than working with neighbours. When it comes to the management of deer, a shared resource, an uncompromising approach is to the detriment of all, as the reaction of the Assynt community to the JMT’s stance demonstrates.

JMT refers to the increase in deer numbers over 50 years. In fact over the recent past red deer numbers have been substantially reduced by culling despite now negligible levels of natural mortality and higher calf survival as a result of climate change. They also take no account of the steep decline in sheep numbers over that period in continually referring to the degraded condition of the environment, for which they hold stalking estates responsible.

While the paper makes much of the fact that the Deer Code is voluntary, it was developed by SNH working closely with all the deer sector bodies. Deer managers across Scotland have signed up to it and are working to it. The Code is particularly valuable in guiding discussions within DMGs as to how to meet the often divergent objectives of members in a way that delivers a balance of economic, environmental and social benefits and avoids conflict. The principles which it asserts are also helpful in the development and review of Deer Management Plans in which most DMGs are presently engaged.

In suggesting more legislation to make ‘sustainable deer management a legal requirement’ JMT apparently reserves the right to its own interpretation which does not take proper account of the economic and social aspects of sustainability and it is ironic that, in calling into question the value of the ‘voluntary’ Code, JMT is apparently prepared to disregard it at Assynt in its refusal to acknowledge the value of temporary fencing in protecting fragile habitats from grazing. JMT could solve its relationship problems with the Assynt community and neighbours at a stroke if it was less intransigent about this. A regulated system would not have prevented any of the difficulties that have arisen there.

Despite being voluntary, the Code is in fact enforceable by SNH using their powers under Section 8 of the Deer Act. This could be tested should JMT or others find themselves unable to agree to the Section 7 Agreement currently proposed by SNH for the Assynt SAC.

What is particularly disappointing about this latest divisive statement is that in many DMGs environmental owners, including JMT, have been working well with other deer management interests and there has been an increasing focus on common interest and shared objectives. ADMG acknowledges that the JMT land management objectives are as legitimate as those of its neighbours and should be respected as such. It is surely not unreasonable to expect JMT to show the same respect and neighbourly consideration for those who wish to continue to manage deer for stalking and venison production and to acknowledge the employment, investment and other benefits which this brings, not least to the many visitors from within Scotland and beyond who love to see deer, one of the ‘Big Five’ species.

ADMG has attempted repeatedly to work with JMT despite their withdrawal from some DMGs. I regret that we must now acknowledge that we have failed to find some common ground.”


Considered response from ADMG to call for statutory system of deer management by Rob Gibson MSP

Following remarks by Rob Gibson MSP, Chairman of the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs and Environment Committee that there should be an enquiry into Scotland’s deer management group system, Richard Cooke, Chairman, The Association of Deer Management Groups, says:

We have read Rob Gibson’s comments with interest following his recent visit to Assynt where he has clearly appreciated the complexity of deer management decision-making, and where there are potentially conflicting management objectives between neighbouring land holdings.

ADMG represents all deer managers throughout the Highlands and acknowledges the equal legitimacy of all management objectives that take proper account of the Code of Deer Management.   We frequently emphasise the necessity of open communication and compromise within Deer Management Groups (DMGs) to enable them to go forward with a common purpose.

Conflict resolution is increasingly important for DMGs throughout the open deer range and is best addressed through the agreement of a Group deer management plan negotiated between members to reasonably meet the land management needs of all parties, including Government Agencies where designated sites are present.

At present that process takes place under the voluntary principle and generally works well. The regulatory approach to deer management groups proposed by Mr Gibson would not obviate the difficulties of reconciling ecological, economic and social objectives. Reconciliation cannot be compelled and there are existing mechanisms under deer legislation whereby SNH can impose solutions, either through a voluntary control agreement, known as a Section 7 Agreement, or under a Compulsory Control Order, Section 8.

Walkers urged to find out about deer stalking before heading for the hills

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is urging walkers to check for deer stalking before heading for the hills.

This year’s Heading for the Scottish Hills website has been launched by SNH. The web service ( is a quick way for walkers to check that they won’t disturb deer stalking over the stag stalking season (1st July to 20th October) and was set up by SNH to help walkers to plan routes away from stalking areas. The service, which was set up four years ago, covers around 70 estates in popular hill walking areas mainly in the Cairngorms National Park, the Breadalbane area and on the west coast.

The website includes general information about stalking on all participating estates and contact details for more information. Some estates provide detailed information on the site up to a week in advance, describing where and when stalking will take place, as well as suggested walking routes. There is also information about responsible behaviour for land managers and walkers.

The popularity of the stag stalking season for walking led to demand from both walkers and land managers for an online service – making it much easier for walkers and other recreational users to take reasonable steps to find out about stag stalking, as encouraged by The Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

SNH is also looking for feedback on the service.

Fiona Cuninghame, SNH recreation and access officer, explained:
“The web service is a quick way for walkers to check that they won’t disturb deer stalking when heading to participating estates from July to October.

“We’ve had good feedback from walkers and land managers about the website. But we want to make sure the service is as easy to use as possible, has the potential to cover a larger area, and is accessible from mobiles and tablets. So I’d welcome suggestions on our online survey.”

The online survey is available at”

Andrea Partridge, Mountaineering Council of Scotland Access Officer, said:
“The Mountaineering Council of Scotland has been closely involved with the Heading for the Scottish Hills website and is delighted to see that steps are being taken to expand the service and make it more accessible. We would encourage all hill-goers to check the website during the stalking season and if needed contact the relevant estate.”

Richard Cooke, chairman of the Association of Deer Management Groups, said:
“The number of people going to the Scottish hills for recreation can make it difficult for deer managers, particularly during the autumn period. There is no reason why both walkers and stalkers can’t share the hills, but the need is for more readily available information so that all hill goers can take account of the needs of others. We see the online version of “Heading for the Scottish hills” as a really important step forward in that communication process.”

The web page takes its name from the ‘Heading for the Scottish Hills’ book, a collaboration between landowners and mountaineers published between 1988 and 1996. For the first time, this book provided hill walkers with an easy way to identify and contact participating estates to find out where stalking was taking place.

Winner of Fred Taylor trophy

Winner of the first running of the Fred Taylor Memorial Trophy for Working Stalking Ponies held at the 25th GWCT Scottish Game Fair at Scone Palace on 7 July was Victor of Alltnacailleach (6 years old), from the Garrogie Estate, Inverness-shire, with ghillie Christina Ellis.

10 ponies took part, all immaculately turned out, making the job of judge Peter Fraser, former head stalker on Invercauld Estate, an exceptionally tough one.

Ponies in the competition came from Balmoral Estate, Blair Castle, Garrogie, Invermark, Kinlochuichart, Tulchan of Glenisla, and Reay Forest.

The competition was organized by The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Association of Deer Management Groups in memory of Fred Taylor, who was the highly respected head stalker on Invermark Estate, Angus, for more than 20 years. Fred died from cancer last year just before he was due to retire, and devote more time to breeding working ponies.

The trophy was presented by Fred’s wife Anne.

Adam Smith, Director, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust Scotland, said:

This was a wonderful spectacle. We have never had ten ponies in our main ring before, all kitted out for the hill, all with stalkers and ghillies looking superb. This was this a brilliant educational exhibit, with working ponies still very much a part of game management in Scotland today and, with the sun shining brightly, a real tribute to Fred.

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

This competition, which we hope will now run every year at the GWCT Scottish Game Fair, will have brought to the public attending the event a part of rural life in Scotland that they may never have seen. All credit and thanks to those who entered for supporting it, some of whom travelled long distances to be there – they could all have won! And many congratulations especially to the 2013 Champions Victor and Christina.

The Fred Taylor Memorial Trophy for Working Stalking Ponies

The working pony is a treasured tradition on many of Scotland’s sporting estates and deer forests, and it’s fitting that the 25th Anniversary GWCT Scottish Game Fair hosts the first staging of a ‘concourse d’elegance’ for working ponies in memory of the late Fred Taylor, Head Stalker on Invermark Estate who died last year.

Entry for the competition is now open, and estates and deer forests with working ponies are encouraged to take part.

The event takes place on Sunday 7 July. All ponies entered should be accompanied by a stalker/ghillie in estate or sporting wear, and ponies should be turned out in appropriate tack for the hill, either to carry a stag, or panniers, or other hill work. Every pony entered must be working or have worked on an estate or deer forest during the stalking/shooting season.

A preliminary judging will be followed on Sunday afternoon by a parade in the main ring, final judging and awards of rosettes and prizes.

The main award is the Fred Taylor Trophy, sponsored by the Earl of Dalhousie, and a set of photographs of the winning pony at work by acclaimed sporting photographer Glyn Satterley.

The event is organised by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust in conjunction with the Association of Deer Management Groups.

Application forms and other entry details can be obtained from:
Dick Playfair
The Association of Deer Management Groups
Tel: 0131 445 5570

ADMG representatives report good progress on deer management front to Minister for Environment at briefing meeting

Representatives of the Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG) met in April 2013 with Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for Environment and Climate Change, who also has responsibility for deer issues.

The meeting was held to discuss the work of ADMG and progress made since the passing of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011, and also the progress of the Lowland Deer Network Scotland (LDNS).

The meeting was attended by Richard Cooke, Chairman of ADMG and LDNS, and Finlay Clark, ADMG Secretary. The agenda covered ADMG’s role and relationship with the Scottish Government and its agencies, deer numbers and impacts, designated sites, Deer Management Groups and deer management planning, as well as issues such as competence and the emerging concept of ‘wild land’.

Richard Cooke said: “I think that there is good momentum with regard to the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act. Everybody in the sector has recognised the responsibilities embodied in the Code of Deer Management and are finding it helpful, particularly when drawing up or updating deer management plans.

“The legislation appears to have been taken seriously by those in the sector and, when it is reviewed, I am confident that we can show good progress.

“I think there is still work to do in raising awareness of the Code among those who cull deer on an occasional basis to protect their economic interests such as crops and tree, particularly in relation to competence.

“In an ideal world we would like anyone who takes a rifle to shoot a deer to be doing so under the same standards, but I think the introduction of the General Licence and the emphasis on training to demonstrate competence has been a helpful move in that direction.”

Regarding the Lowland Deer Network, Richard Cooke said: “The point of LDNS is to introduce a collaborative culture to the management of lowland deer. It’s about bringing a wide range of individuals and organisations that are involved with lowland deer together and adding value. The response has been very positive and I am immensely impressed by the commitment and professionalism of the many vocational deer managers who have become involved with the Network so far.

“In our second year what we are doing, having built the core, is to roll out local initiatives encouraging those on the low ground to recognise deer management as one of their responsibilities, to take advantage of training opportunities, and to work with each other.”

Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for Environment and Climate Change said: “The messages we have received back regarding the Act, the Code and deer management generally suggest that good progress is being made particularly in certain areas where previously concerns had been expressed.

“The low ground initiative fills a gap and, for the record, we very much welcome the work that is being done to establish the Lowland Deer Network and the contribution that it is making.”