By Lorna Slater

SCOTLAND’S deer are one of our most iconic species and a part of our landscape. But without natural predators, our wild deer population has grown to become one of the biggest threats to our natural environment.

In the last 60 years there have been substantial increases in the numbers of Scotland’s wild deer species. At these densities, deer can have a devastating impact on our land, with significant damage caused by trampling and overgrazing.

These negative impacts are well documented, and can be seen across our forests – from preventing new trees from growing to damaging existing woodland.

Back in 2017 the Deer Working Group concluded that changes were needed, “to ensure effective deer management that safeguards public interests and promotes the sustainable management of wild deer”.

As Minister for Biodiversity, I am fully committed to taking forward the actions as recommended by the Deer Working Group, as a priority. Our previous approaches to deer management are simply inadequate and unsustainable – we need to take action now to reduce the negative impacts of deer if we are to meet our climate change targets.

For example, we are aiming to plant 18,000 hectares of new woodland each year – the equivalent of 36 million trees by 2025. But restoring our forests is simply not possible with such high densities of deer.

The population of deer in Scotland is estimated to now be in excess of one million – and it’s not just woodland that feels the impact. Trampling and overgrazing can also cause untold damage on our peatland restoration efforts.

Restoring degraded peatland can help us reduce carbon emissions, support biodiversity and provide good, green jobs. But if we do not reduce the pressure of high deer populations on our land then that important restoration work will likely be in vain.

Recent events have reminded us of the urgency of tackling climate change. Tackling high deer numbers is an important step, and for that reason I am determined that we will see a step-change in deer management in Scotland. We will bring in new legislation during the course of this Parliament, but in the meantime we will make full use of the existing intervention powers wherever they are required.

There are a wide range of views on how best to manage wild deer in Scotland. We will need the experience and skills of those currently working in the land management and deer sectors to create a more sustainable deer management model.

As well as creating employment opportunities, deer also provide a healthy food source. Venison is a nutritious and sustainable alternative to other meat choices. I would encourage the people of Scotland to support the venison industry by buying locally-sourced Scottish venison.

Moving Scotland towards more sustainable deer management is not a short-term project, but I am committed to ensuring we make real progress now, and I am determined to get the balance right in order to achieve our ambitious plans to halt nature loss by 2030, and reverse it by 2045.

Lorna Slater is the Scottish Government's Diversity Minister