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.”