The Scottish Government’s Deer Management for Climate and Nature consultation closed in March. Much of it set out how the recommendations of the independent Deer Working Group would be progressed, and existing legislation streamlined.

What wasn’t anticipated was a proposal for the introduction of Deer Management Nature Restoration Orders (DMNROs), not a Deer Working Group recommendation but one clean out of "‘left field". It’s this proposal, and potential reform to the close seasons for female deer, that have caused most consternation across the sector.

The DMNRO is the bluntest of instruments: a new regulatory concept compelling deer numbers to be reduced drastically over undefined but potentially extensive areas and implemented on the subjective basis of "nature restoration and enhancement". In terms of timing, once one is imposed it could run for decades.

Also, unlike regulatory agreements under the current legislation - note the word "agreement" - it wouldn’t be based on damage and applied following a series of rigorous steps and negotiation with the land owner or Deer Management Group. Indeed, deer may simply be one in a whole suite of possible factors such as grazing by other herbivores but it’s the deer that will be the target of the order as the name implies. And the proposed penalty for a land owner for non-compliance with a DMNRO is a £40,000 fine and/or three months imprisonment or both.

This drives a coach and horses through the voluntary principle on which the deer management group (DMG) system operates with significant success across the upland red deer range - based on collaboration so that those with different objectives are delivering shared aims of combating climate change and supporting biodiversity recovery. And it works, as research by the James Hutton Institute and the latest cull data shows.

If DMNROs are introduced it will keep the legal profession busy for sure, but even at this very early stage it is undermining the important issue of trust. “Trust us” has been the Government’s response when we have voiced our concerns. But this is an untested, seemingly arbitrary concept. And in almost every other situation there’s a return for the one taking the hit or delivering the benefit - there are subsidies for planting hedges, or sowing species-rich grassland, or planting trees, but not with the DMNRO.

Moreover, the upland red deer sector that ADMG represents has been co-operating and working with Government and its agencies for decades and striving for shared goals. DMGs have been reducing red deer numbers across the open range, are in the vanguard of new tree planting and peatland recovery, overcoming conflict and reaching sustainable solutions, supporting local jobs and rural economies and supplying a healthy protein, venison, into the market. Now all that is being challenged and collaboration is being threatened.

Even the wording raises the hackles. The DMNRO as proposed is an "order’" If it had been an "agreement" we would still have opposed the concept, but it might at least have started the discussions off on a better footing.

Tom Turnbull, is Chair, Association of Deer Management Groups

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