Top Scots venison is to be part of a project to help families living in poverty south of the Border.

The meat would once have graced the menus of the UK’s finest restaurants - but with restaurants across the country closed, tonnes of produce is now lying unused in freezers amid a drop in venison consumption.

The deer population has risen to over 2 million during lockdown, the highest level in over 1,000 years, largely as a result of restaurant closures.

In response, The Country Food Trust has decided to support both those managing deer in the UK, as well as kids and families, by buying up unused venison which will help provide nutritious meals to those in need.

READ MORE: Scotland's venison sector welcomes cash boost from Scottish Government in bid to survive Covid

The Trust has so far secured 34 tonnes of wild venison to distribute to charities and food banks across the UK, and dishes including venison lasagne and shepherds pie are being given out from Wednesday, to coincide with food waste week.

Tim Woodward, CFT chief executive, said he is “delighted” to be helping distribute venison to families struggling during the pandemic.He said: “In the current environment with hospitality closed, there is limited demand for venison and we are delighted to be using this delicious and low-fat protein to help those in food poverty.

“The Country Food Trust is about to donate its two-millionth meal to those in need and could not have done this without incredible support from its supporters and the countryside community.“

This is being distributed via the Felix Project, a food redistribution charity, to food banks and charities in London.

A total of 2.5 tonnes of venison has come from Highland Game in Dundee, as well as Wild Robinson Foods in the Cotswolds and South Downs Venison.

Venison supplier Mike Robinson has been supplying restaurants with Ben Heath, deer stalker and co-owner of Deerbox, before the pandemic forced eateries to close their doors.

Mr Robinson said: “As the deer population was increasing, they were running out of food, so we knew we had to cull to keep the numbers down.

“And we don’t want this delicious healthy food to go to waste. In these unprecedented times, we are delighted to be able to help feed some of the poorest people in London via the Felix Project.”

During the pandemic, the Felix Project has delivered triple the usual amount of food and provided 21.1 million meals to 260,000 vulnerable people.

The charity started distributing the venison on Wednesday and Ringcross food bank in Holloway, north London, was one of the first recipients.

HeraldScotland: A red stag with a fancy hat by Stacy Woolhouse.

It received shepherd’s pies made from venison supplied by Highland Game and cooked by With Compassion, a group of chefs.

Prior to the pandemic, the food bank catered for 6-15 people a day. It now serves more than 170 meals a day.

Mark Curtin, chief executive of the Felix Project, said “We are so grateful for this supply of venison secured by the Countryside Food Trust.

“In fact, this epitomises what we are trying to do; prevent food waste and supply nutritious food to those who need it most.

“We are delighted that families across the capital who are struggling to get by will be able to savour these delicious, tasty meals.”

Deer numbers in Scotland are estimated to have increased from around 511,000 in 1990 to between 750,000 and 1 million as of 2020.

READ MORE: They shoot deer, don't they? Scotland's culling controversy.

In addition, due to restaurant closures reducing the demand for venison, deer populations are higher than ever, with some concerned about the risk to biodiversity and balance in Scotland’s forests.

Simon Hodgson, chief executive of Forestry and Land Scotland, spoke out at the beginning of the year about the worrying knock-on effects this may have.

He said: “Venison purchases by the hard-hit hospitality sector have dropped, and there are knock-on effects for prices paid to deer managers for deer carcasses.

“The winter cull has been reduced due to lockdown restrictions and we can only expect much larger deer populations this year.”

He added that Scotland’s forests “are expected to play a central role" in achieving the country’s net zero emissions targets.

He said: “Our woodlands look impressive and contribute greatly to Scotland’s rural economy, and this is in no small part down to effective deer management.”