The dilemma of the deer cull in Scotland

A new report shows that there may be as many as 1 million deer in Scotland, causing great environmental problems. Among others, deer are overgrazing forests, preventing them from regenerating and impeding the reafforestation projects. This also directly halts the efforts to combat the climate change with tree-planting. Besides, they are carriers of Lyme disease, increasing its rates to almost epidemic in some areas. In addition, road collisions are common, also being a danger to humans. Because of the negative impacts of their high population density, a regular cull is in place. Yet, this causes a lot of tension between others who live in these areas.

Deer hunting is a traditional activity in Scotland and for some, an important source of income, especially at sporting estates. However, mainly malthe stags are hunted, while hinds, more important contributors to population growth, are often untouched. While about 180 000 cervids are culled each year, conservationists say that this is not even nearly enough. But it is the hunters and gamekeepers who oppose further cuts in deer numbers.

Many find the deer culls unethical, as the culls do not always follow the traditional sportsmanship approach of hunting. Others find it a massacre simply because of the quantity of the deer killed. Gamekeepers are scared of such large culls also, because with lower deer density, sport hunting will require more effort and bring in less money.

A new Deer Working Group report came up with 100 recommendations for better management of deer in Scotland, among others also more open hunting with shorter restriction periods. In addition, the culling quota should be increased, with the roe deer cull doubling.

High deer populations due to a lack of predators

The deer population is a large problem in UK because there is no natural control of its size. Large predators, such as wolves and lynx, used to predate on the deer, keeping their populations down. But already centuries ago humans extirpated the two species, leaving hunters to be the only deer predators. Yet, humans cannot fully replace the large carnivores, making them crucial for ecosystem health.

The Yellowstone National Park solved the problem of deer overgrazing with a simple move – they reintroduced wolves. After they had returned, the overgrazing stopped, the landscape transformed completely and biodiversity increased. This directly proved how a complete ecosystem with top predators leads to higher biodiversity.

Of course, a reintroduction of a large carnivore is highly controversial because they can be a threat to livestock. Without adapting to a life with them, by using livestock protection methods, conflict is very common. Yet, even without any large carnivores, the human-wildlife conflict is still there, this time with predator’s prey. This shows that the conflict is not so much about the specific animal that would be highly problematic, but human-human conflict about how to manage wildlife for different purposes.

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4 thoughts on “The dilemma of the deer cull in Scotland

  1. Dear Perzanowski,

    we modified that the large carnivores are a potential threat to unprotected livestock. Thank you for pointing this inconsistency out to us.

  2. To the Editor: Please be consistent – on one hand you are constantly against any regulation of large predators’ populations and now you claim that: “…reintroduction of a large carnivore is highly controversial because they can be a threat to human and domestic animal safety”. So why different approach for Scotland and different for Romania, Slovakia, Poland etc.?

  3. I live in Scotland and find that there is very little resistance to shooting deer in fact, apart from a small number of sentimentalists who say that no one should ever kill anything for any reason. But few of them realise that thousands and thousands of deer starve to death every winter in the hills, while over-grazing has destroyed habitat for many native species, reducing swathes of the country to an effective grass/heather desert. What is needed is a broad front of education. And for deer-shooting to be less of a sport for the fabulously wealthy and more of a passtime (and food-source) for local communities.

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