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.”

Openness in publication of Mar Lodge review applauded

Both the Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG) and the East Grampian Deer Management Group have said that the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) must be applauded for its openness and willingness to make available the independent report on Mar Lodge Estate.

Richard Cooke, Chairman, ADMG, says:

“This has not been a comfortable examination for the Trust, since the report is highly critical of management at Mar Lodge Estate and of the way the Trust has communicated its land management plans and actions, particularly with its neighbours and with the local community. The Trust has wisely taken the best route in publishing the report both swiftly and fully, and senior management must be applauded for that.”

Mark Nicolson, Chairman, East Grampian Deer Management Group, of which Mar Lodge Estate is a member, says:

“The NTS deserves high praise for publishing such a candid document. The Review Panel also deserves great credit for their understanding of the complex issues of management, delivering the conservation and sporting principles jointly agreed by the NTS and the donor of the bequest which enabled the original purchase.”

The 42-page report is highly critical of past management at Mar Lodge which it describes as a ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of Highland sporting estates.  It says that decision making at Mar Lodge was ‘slow, bureaucratic and hierarchical’ when it should have been ‘more focussed, direct, accountable and more rapid.’  The report also says that the National Trust for Scotland has neither the necessary depth nor spread of expertise of land management to deliver fully integrated sporting and conservation objectives, and that there should be change to the ‘structure and competency’ of management within Mar Lodge Estate.

The report states that NTS should consider seeking ‘specific commercial sporting advice’ as required, and that it should co-opt to its Board ‘an individual with experience of running a large Highland estate.’

Mark Nicolson says:

“The Panel has made specific recommendations as to future management. I hope that the NTS embraces these, and develops the necessary skills to deliver the harmony originally envisaged, so that Mar Lodge can become a shining example to the private and public sectors alike that sporting and conservation aims can co-exist, and deliver multiple objectives.”

Richard Cooke says:

“Other deer management groups and upland land managers can gain a great deal from this report – not least the importance of communicating openly in resolving conflicting management objectives at a local level, and the deployment of fencing as a legitimate management tool where major habitat change is being addressed in the presence of deer.”

The report contains a number of other recommendations for addressing the conservation and sporting objectives at Mar Lodge including embracing a fully integrated system of management to achieve a range of objectives, the strategic use of fencing to funnel deer to lower ground outside the regeneration zone, and other fencing elsewhere, plus the provision of alternative winter cover and foraging including the opening of forestry blocks.  The report states also that the use of out of season culling and night shooting may be necessary to continue to protect the regeneration zone although ADMG would like a moratorium to be placed on all such activity until the National Trust for Scotland has confirmed which elements of the report it will adopt into its deer management planning going forward.

Further information from:
Richard Cooke
Chairman, ADMG
Tel: 01356 624566

Mark Nicolson
Chairman, East Grampian Deer Management Group
Tel: 01346 513149

ADMG welcomes Mar Lodge report findings

The Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG), the organisation that represents deer managers in Scotland, has welcomed the report by the Mar Lodge Independent Review Panel published this week.

Richard Cooke, ADMG Chairman, says:

We welcome this thorough and balanced review which gives some very clear pointers, after years of difference and conjecture, over the future way forward at Mar Lodge that will enable the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) to pursue its objectives while at the same time not disadvantaging those other landholdings within the Deer Management Group.

While the report identifies some management failings it also indicates with some confidence that the potential conflicts between the principle Mar Lodge Estate objectives are reconcilable.

Limited term fencing is identified as having a role to play in the solution – a view that ADMG and other organisations have long advocated.

There are important lessons from this for all land managers, and deer managers in particular, and we would hope that this report heralds a greater recognition of the need for all to take account of the impacts of their policies on others, and of the need to compromise to avoid causing negative economic or environmental impacts on neighbouring land.

Deer Management Groups are the ideal forum in which these issues can be aired and negotiated, and we look forward to working more closely with NTS at DMG level in future.

We trust that some of the findings of the review will in due course be reflected in NTS deer policy across Scotland as a whole.”

Read full report >>

Peebles conference report

Peebles conference addressed new Act’s implications for lowland deer management.

The packed conference at Cardrona, Peebles on 14 November addressed the issue of deer management in low ground areas, and the new duties that those with deer on their land now have under the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act to manage them sustainably.

Those attending represented both the public and private sector and included landowners, farmers and foresters as well as recreational stalkers and countryside rangers.

They heard from a variety of speakers including Stewart Stevenson MSP, Minister for Environment and Climate Change; Andrew Thin, Chairman, Scottish Natural Heritage; Robbie Kernahan, Wildlife Operations Unit Manager, Scottish Natural Heritage, Iain Fergusson, Deer Management Officer (South), Forest Enterprise Scotland, and Jonnie Hall, Head of Policy, NFUS.

In addition, a case study on low ground deer management was presented by Robert Speirs and Derek Kneller of the North Lanarkshire Deer Management Group.

Stewart Stevenson MSP, Minister for Environment, said:

“I welcome this initiative which looks at how deer management structures can be adapted for the lowlands.  As a government, we have provided the legislative framework for the delivery of deer management with public interest in mind, and SNH has developed the code of practice intended to support deer mangers with advice on guidance.  However, the right structures must be in place to allow deer managers to work in a collaborative way with neighbours and relevant public authorities.”

Richard Cooke, Chairman of the Association of Deer Management Groups, and who chaired the event, said:

“Deer represent either an opportunity or a threat, depending on your point of view, and whether you are a vocational stalker, farmer, forester, hands-on deer manager, environmentalist, local authority representative or work in the public sector.  They affect us all, and our challenge is to make the most of our opportunities and minimise any possible negative impacts within the parameters of deer welfare, environmental sustainability, public safety and food safety.

“Much of this may be common sense and part and parcel of what we all take to our deer management activities on a daily basis; but we are all accountable and we not only need to follow best practice and take full account of our responsibilities, but also to be seen to do so.”

The event was organised and funded by the Association of Deer Management Groups, Forestry Commission Scotland, and Scottish Natural Heritage.

Those who manage lowland deer can join the Lowland Deer Network.  Further details from the Estate Office, Dalhousie Estates, Brechin, Angus DDP 6SG,

tel 01356 624566 e:


Lowland deer management in spotlight at Peebles conference

A conference taking place at the Macdonald Cardrona Hotel, Peebles on Monday 14 November 2011 will highlight issues surrounding lowland deer management in Scotland in the context of the new Wildlife & Natural Environment (W&NE) Act. The event also marks the launch of the Lowland Deer Network, (LDN) a new initiative designed to assist lowland deer managers to develop a more coordinated approach to managing the deer on their land.

Focusing on roe deer and other species, and as the W&NE Act affects anyone who has deer on their land, the development of LDN is intended to pre-empt issues that are emerging from increasing low ground deer numbers due to expanding woodland habitat and a readily available food supply. Associated issues include roe deer in peri-urban and urban areas, road traffic accidents and damage to productive commercial woodland, crops and conservation areas.

The Cardrona event is aimed at farmers and land managers, deer stalkers (professional and recreational), forestry companies and foresters, Local Authorities and other individuals and organisations who have an interest in how Scotland’s low ground deer resource should be sustainably managed.

The keynote address will be given by Stewart Stevenson MSP, Minister for Environment and Climate Change. Other speakers include Andrew Thin, Chairman, Scottish Natural Heritage, Dr Bob McIntosh, Director, Forestry Commission Scotland, Derek Kneller and Robert Speirs of the North Lanarkshire Deer Management Group, and Jonathan Hall, Head of Rural Policy, NFUS.

Richard Cooke, Chairman, the Association of Deer Management Groups, who is chairing the conference, says:

“Scotland’s rural sector has to recognise that, in terms of the new W&NE Act, low ground deer bring at least as many challenges as their high ground counterparts. This event aims to reach those who farm, have forestry interests, who stalk, or who own or manage land, whether private and public, and advise them about how the Act affects them; also that a more co-ordinated approach may be more effective in managing deer on the low ground and on the urban fringe.”

The day-long conference is free to attend. Places will be given on a first-come basis, with applications/registration to
Tel: 01356 624566.

Issued by and further information from:
Dick Playfair
Playfair Walker
Tel: 0131 445 5570