Dick Balharry, one of Scotland’s foremost naturalists died today. Last week, in Glen Feshie, he was awarded the Geddes Environment Medal for a lifetime’s achievement in environmental work by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (pictured above). I am grateful to the Society for its permission to reproduce Dick’s paper together with an introduction by Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of the RSGS.

Mike Robinson, RSGS CEO, introduces Dick Balharry’s vision for land use in Scotland.

Our most recent Geddes medal was awarded to the highly respected conservationist Dick Balharry, at a special event in Glenfeshie this past weekend.    A popular awardee, Dick has influenced, inspired, advised and encouraged so many institutions in Scotland and helped establish the country’s first nature reserves at Beinn Eighe and Creag Meagaidh.    Surrounded by family, friends and colleagues, Dick, who is terminally ill, asked to share the award with his wife Adeline, and used the event to highlight his hopes for the future of environmental land management in Scotland.

His belief was that the current tools used to encourage environmental land management were not sufficient, and that in addition to the basic legislative carrots and sticks, there was a need for a scheme that can give formal recognition to good practice and be respected by all interested parties. For instance, he asked, how is it fair that a land manager who chooses to reduce deer numbers to enhance the habitat and forest cover, has to pay to ‘fence out’ deer from neighbouring estates who continue to artificially prop up high densities of deer, instead of those neighbouring estates being forced to fence high numbers ‘in’?He also stressed the apparent absence of any integrated vision as to what constitutes the “public interest” in Scotland.

His paper is critical of both government and landowners but seeks to provide a middle ground for discussion rather than further polarised debate. As someone who has worked at the forefront of Scottish land management for the past fifty years we thought more people should be given the chance to hear his views, and have reprinted his paper in full below.

DELIVERING CHANGE THROUGH VISION, EMPOWERMENT AND RECOGNITION

by Dick Balharry

Today I would like to promote the concept that an “agreed vision” for land use has the potential to be a powerful motivator for change. The basis of the concept is simply that, with a vision you open up the possibility of recognising and celebrating success. As I will explain the idea is based on adding value to the existing tools of “carrots” and “sticks” to empower change.

If the opportunity allows I would welcome discussion.

Before that I would like to say a little about my formative years, where the ideas I wish to share today have, at least in part, their origin.

Background

As a boy, living in a small village on the outskirts of Dundee, I was fascinated by the natural heritage. I was given total freedom to explore the woods, marshes and fields and these became my natural habitat. Little escorted walks soon became lonesome adventures. My interests took many forms including creating collections, hunting and hand rearing wild animals. Through these activities I gained an insight into the lives of many different animals: including rabbits, kestrels, jackdaws and jays.

I soon realized that the natural world presented more questions than answers, not to mention that my activities also provided me with a healthy diet and a fast pair of legs.

At sixteen years old, on completion of a year at Dundee Engineering Trades College I turned up for work at an engineering plant. Whatever my destiny I knew then that working in a factory was off the agenda, the noise, the smell of hot oil and cigarette smoke were simply alien and a far cry from my interests, I was gone within the hour.

As is often the case with youthful poachers my first job was as a gamekeeper. The job was on an estate near Tighnabruach and involved controlling predators to protect wild pheasants, and patrolling a river against salmon poachers.

In essence, I was charged with sterilizing the environment of predators in order to maximize the number of birds and salmon available for guests.

However, it soon became clear that the keeping of a fox and a raven did not meet with the Landlord’s image of a gamekeeper. An ultimatum was given to the head keeper “either the pets go, or he goes” – so I left with my furry and feathered friends.

From there I became a deerstalker in Glen Lyon under the watchful eye of Archie MacDonald the Head Stalker. Archie mentored me in the soft skills of the hill and it was always a privilege to be in his company. He was a sincere man of carefully  chosen words, immense knowledge and a sensitivity to all that was around him. I have much to thank him for and I remember him fondly.

When the Red Deer Commission advertised for stalkers in 1959 Archie’s teachings gave me an advantage. The combination of the increased salary and opportunity to work across the whole of Scotland pulled me into a new phase of my life, albeit still focused firmly on red deer. While travelling the length and breadth of Scotland culling marauding deer and marking deer calves I often found my attention diverted to the signs, tracks, dens and eyries of other animals – wildcats peregrines, eagles and even martens.

My career in conservation started in 1962, when at the age of 24, I was appointed warden on Beinn Eighe NNR in Wester Ross. I was given responsibility for over 10,000 acres of mountain and Caledonian pinewood. This was the first NNR in the UK and the focus was primarily on research. At that time the public were regarded by The Nature Conservancy as more of an inconvenience than an asset.

In addition to working with scientists, being a Warden was also my first introduction to what I might loosely call “the establishment”. The establishment can be defined in many ways and it is fascinating, even today, to see how networks based on wealth, social status, formal qualifications and public education influence decision making and how they often over-ride logic and evidence to protect their own interests. Being “out of the loop” as one might say it was soon clear that my dream job came with limited ability to influence decisions taken in Edinburgh and London. Tactful advocacy, persuasion, passion and promoting public support became the tools of my trade.

Throughout my life I have seen the establishment work in weird and wonderful ways. For example I was once informed that educative foreign travel was the province of the Officers, in essence those with degrees rather than Wardens with field skills. However despite this rebuff, with determination and family support, I broke the format and in 1969 attended a course on the Administration of National Parks visiting most of the mid-west National Parks in the USA and Canada along with 40 other delegates chosen from around the world for their experience rather than academic prowess. This was a turning point in my life and fueled my desire to drive change and promote the benefits and joys of Scotland’s natural heritage to a wider audience, by whatever means I could.

Since then I have spent my life improving my knowledge and enjoying the opportunity to enthuse others. I have engaged with everyone I could, including shepherds, stalkers, urban audiences, land owners fellow campaigners, hill walkers, top civil servants, leading politicians and royalty. I have made extensive use of the media. Those who know me well, know that my language still gives away my prejudices and frustrations with the establishment.

Reflections

On reflection my career has been a vocation, privileged and fortunate.

It was a career that brought me close to many of Scotland’s iconic species and allowed me to discover the magic of the Highlands and Islands. It introduced me to the knowledge and the culture of the people who live and work there and it allowed me to meet many of the scientists whose names were made by the opportunity to work in the Highlands and Islands.

I am always pleased to hear that my interest in the natural world has helped inspire others and if, through my talks and media presentations, I have contributed to developing the interests of a wider public then that is a worthwhile legacy.

Sometimes I am asked to name a favourite animal, plant, bird or place and I give an answer. However as Patrick Geddes would have said to give an answer is like plucking one petal of the six lobed flower. This is an easy trap to fall into: the simplicity of the individual is always easier to describe than the whole.

Now with the focus of mortality, single and sectorial interests seem less important. Rather it is the whole which captures my imagination: the need for quality jobs in rural areas, the need to break the dependency cycle, the need to see our wildlands as an economic asset, the need to have regard to carbon emissions and the need to think long term.

We depend on our rural environment and it depends on the public being interested. It is this phrase “public interest”, used so freely by many that now strikes me as of paramount importance in the land use debate and is central to our ability to make change.

I have no quarrel with wealth, who owns the land, how they were educated, or their country of origin, so long as they manage the land giving due respect to the interests that we all rely on.

Public Interest and Vision

So what does “public interest” mean? or indeed look like?

The uncertainty and absence of clear thinking around this commonly used phrase is the main problem as I see it. Managing the land with respect for specific interests and specialisms is fairly straight forward and one that defined our approach to nature conservation from the 80’s through to today.

However, integrated land management for a collective “public interest” remains to be addressed. The main challenge being the absence of any understanding as to what the collective “public interest” looks like at a landscape level.

Change requires vision and leadership. Without the vision and the necessary clarity of purpose, the debate on rural land-use has become polarized and permeated by the politics of envy and criticism.

It is not only the vision that is important for change but also how it is presented, the weasel words of “balance” and “sustainability” need to be avoided if we are to progress. It should have been done long ago and I cannot help wonder why not? Is it simply too difficult? Perhaps the structures of government with their respective experts are too divided? Perhaps there are too many interest groups? Perhaps as a society we are too fragmented to allow for a simple vision to emerge?

Whatever the excuse it is my personal belief that the vision can, and indeed must be defined in order to promote integrated delivery and empower those who own the land with responsibility. It is my view that the vision needs to be defined in a way that provides scope for flexibility, allows owners to make choices and provides the opportunity to be respected for the approach they take. Our current system, focused on protecting single interests, was necessary and while it continues to have its place it has its limitations. My objective here is to suggest an additional approach that adds value to the existing system.

I ask you to think for a minute and consider, if it were possible, where is the vision and the leadership necessary to make it happen going to come from? Who is going to lead the charge against the sectorial approach and promote the need for an integrated approach? Who is going to review public policy mechanisms from outside the box and come up with new thinking?

I do not know the answer to these questions, but to future leaders who have the opportunity to respond to the challenge, I would like to make an observation.

Formal recognition and Empowerment

Existing attempts to deliver public policies rely on two simple means of influence, offering monetary incentives (carrots) or punishing through regulation (sticks). In effect a two legged stool.

This is a shooglie stool and it is my belief that a third leg of influence could be added to help promote a more sophisticated approach to influencing human behaviour. I believe this type of approach will empower those who own land to take responsibility and make changes. That third leg is “formal recognition” and I believe it is necessary, for three reasons.

 Firstly it will require an agreed vision

 Secondly it will empower owners to manage with confidence

 Thirdly it will promote transparency

These are the three reasons why I think it is necessary. The reasons why I think it has potential to deliver are simple and both come from familiar observations of human behaviour. We are all aware of the motivational benefits of rewarding people with recognition and we are equally aware that people need to fit in and feel secure, comfortable, safe and protected.

Throughout my career I have seen the insecurity and fear of being different from the norm of a social group working to maintain inertia and stifle change. The establishment, I mentioned at the start, relies heavily on this insecurity to protect its interest in the status quo.

The beauty of “formal recognition” is that, if well designed, it offers security. The key to this security comes from the level at which the recognition is awarded. The concept will only work if the recognition provides an effective shield from the critics in the establishment, interest groups and government.

The detailed basis and process for awarding “formal recognition” is for others to think through, but to me the key elements are, that formal recognition:

 is respected, not necessarily liked, but respected.

 comes from both government and interest groups.

 is based on robust logic and best evidence.

 is an award given to landowners for all their holdings.

 is based on a flexible and intelligent understanding of the integrated land management challenges, rather than being prescriptive.

Whether “formal recognition” as a scheme would have levels of award and how long the award would last for are details to be worked out in the future.

It is the simplicity of the principle and its potential to empower that I would like you to take away today.

So, given the known benefits and the simplicity of the approach why is “formal recognition” missing from the government tool kit?

It strikes me that the problem is that no one has taken responsibility to grasp the nettle and explain what the “public interest” looks like at a landscape level. The consequence is that we live with no clear vision and we have developed a culture that highlights what we don’t want rather than what we need.

If we could describe the vision, then that would open up the possibility for this third leg of formal recognition to be added, alongside the carrots and sticks, as a complementary means of influencing land owners.

In summary if the public interest was expressed at the level of land management units and high profile recognition was given to those who deliver it, then I have no doubt that the associated benefits of security and marketing would help change the behaviour of those who own the land.

In effect you have set out the safe, moral high ground and you have provided security for those who wish to break from what has become the established norm of “traditional sporting estates”.

Remember not everyone wants to lead when it involves sticking his or her head above the parapet.

An example

An example is Glen Feshie; where we are today.

I have had a long history with Glen Feshie that spans from 1964 to 2015 involving 6 different owners. I have seen the result of the carrots and sticks at work here, indeed I spent many years doing my best to deliver a positive outcome with these limited tools.

But did these two tools achieve the desired results? No they did not, as a critical look at the evidence shows.

Consider the facts, the current owner has neither taken full advantage of all the carrots offered by government, nor been cowed by legislative sticks nor indeed been restricted by sectorial interests. He is delivering well beyond what these crude tools ever sought to achieve.

Glen Feshie has remained a “sporting estate”. Yes, a “sporting estate”, and like you I am fully aware of other “sporting estates” in Scotland where large tracts of land are managed solely for the benefit of a few wealthy people with little or no regard for the public interest. However these are the “sporting estates” of the past and the ones to which Glen Feshie sets an example for the future.

So how does Glen Feshie estate differ?

Well it generates income by providing opportunities for paying guests to shoot deer and grouse just like any old fashioned estate. But there the similarity ends. Today, Glen Feshie is being managed towards a vision, a vision of stewardship, inward investment, local employment and public interest. This vision is delivering tree regeneration without fences and allowing for the development of a natural tree line. It is welcoming to all who take responsible access into the glen. It maintains, and landscapes the foot paths along with the few hill tracks that are necessary for management.

The result is an estate that matches and possibly out performs any government owned land that I can think of, especially in terms of attracting private inward investment, delivering conservation benefit and generating income.

I respect that the results we see here today have come from a visionary land owner who was willing to put his head above the parapet and never sought recognition. It is my belief that if we recognise leaders who are willing to change, others will follow.

Red deer and fencing

Finally, and without apology, I would like to speak about the management of red deer and the regeneration of trees without fences.

Those who said it wasn’t possible spoke loudly, and those with a vested interest in managing the land for the benefit of the few, still do.

I suspect that the reality is that those who objected never doubted that trees would grow or that deer numbers could effectively be reduced, but rather they realised it would be a long costly road and one they didn’t relish having to travel themselves or indeed could not afford to travel. Controlling deer numbers at low levels is costly and requires resources including young fit men. However, it also presents the opportunity for marketing an activity that is essential for protecting our wildland and one that requires greater levels of skill from both the stalker and the client.

The sad fact, witnessed throughout Scotland today, is that in many areas fencing deer out of young native woodland has become a way to maintain easier stalking opportunities and to protect established relationships and social networks. In effect many deer fences are built to protect the interests of the few.

In the context of red deer and of Scotland I see this as a major injustice. If people wish to manage land exclusively for the benefit of the few without regard to the wider public interest then they will never have my support. To those who argue that fences are required to make sport shooting economically viable I would simply say that you are inviting society to question the legitimacy of your ownership model – one that places trophy stags higher than the long term interest of the public and the planet.

But if you must fence then it is my view you should, at your own cost, erect high boundary fences to keep your deer in. This is “not natural”, but then what is natural about maintaining deer at artificially high densities for the benefit of a few?

Higher densities help maximize the sporting opportunities for a few but they also increase the numbers of deer that die in winter from lack of food and shelter. Owners tend to distance themselves from this responsibility claiming that deer are wild animals for which they cannot be held entirely responsible. As it stands that is indeed the law. However the decision to have high numbers of red deer on the hill and the decision not to provide native woodland for shelter remain unequivocally the management choice made by owners.

The result is that, on what we have come to call “traditional sporting estates,” most owners receive the benefit of income from shooting red deer without either accepting effective responsibility for their welfare in winter, or having true regard to a wider public interest. “Traditional sporting estates” cannot stand on the moral high ground of estate ownership as they have tried to claim for over the last 200 years. Rather they embody the selfish greed of a Victorian era, outdated and ludicrous.

The moral high ground of the future will be for those who wish to hunt deer in a natural environment, free of fences, where deer have access to the food and shelter they require; where there is a natural tree line and the public are welcomed and give recognition freely for a job well done.

These are the “sporting estates” of the future and I believe we are standing in Scotland’s first.

If a mechanism existed to formally recognise the results that have been delivered here, then I have no doubt that the positive outcomes would be replicated on other large estates in Scotland.

As I mentioned earlier not everyone is a visionary leader willing to challenge and make changes from the front. Most like to remain within the fold of the status quo until the route to the “safe ground” has been mapped out for them. The route I am outlining is a position of transparency and clarity where the public interest is genuinely delivered within a wide range of different approaches to management: a route that provides others with the confidence to break from the establishment.

In the 1980’s all the vegetation in this Glen, including the heather, was shaved bare by the incessant demand of hungry red deer. Today, following a few years of investment by a visionary, the natural processes that began 9000 years ago are giving revival to the land.

I have lived to see an impossible dream come true and that – is very special.

I sincerely thank Anders Povlsen, Thomas & Ali MacDonnell for hosting this day and for working so hard to make it very special and thank all the estate staff, whose efforts we now witness in this beautiful glen. A Natural Living Caledon Forest Treasure with all its associated life dating back to the ice age, approximately 30 tree generations. Here we have an example of how a sporting estate and the public interest can work together.

The challenge I leave behind for those who follow is to clarify the vision, devise a method of formal recognition respected by all sides in the debate, give rewards on delivery of results and seek change through empowerment.

The Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS) is the leading educational charity in Scotland providing geographical understanding on contemporary issues which shape our future.

Established in 1884, it has a long and distinguished history of promoting an understanding of the natural environment and human societies, and how they interact. In addition to awarding prestigious medals RSGS seeks to make connections and contribute to scientific and policy debate, so as the years march on it is my hope RSGS along with others will help provide the motivation required to make “a vision”, “formal recognition” and “empowerment” central parts of public policy.

It is an honour to be asked to accept the Patrick Geddes Medal and I am delighted that Glen Feshie was chosen as the venue.

Patrick Geddes, biologist, sociologist, geographer, philanthropist and pioneering town planner was born in Ballater 1854. He was well known for innovative thinking and promoting the idea that physical geography, market economies and anthropology are

inseparable interwoven structures, akin to a flower

He was famous for, amongst many things, being critical of thinking that focused on single elements. In 1917 he commented that

Each of the various specialists remains too closely concentrated upon his single specialism, too little awake to those of the others. Each sees clearly and seizes firmly upon one petal of the six-lobed flower of life and tears it apart from the whole.”

I think the concept of formal recognition for land management that delivers on an agreed long term vision chimes well with Patrick Geddes’s approach and I hope my career has contributed in some small way to increasing the value we place on our people and our natural resources.

It is with pleasure that I accept the Patrick Geddes Medal in Glen Feshie.

Thank you.

Dick Balharry MBE

Glen Feshie 18 April 2015

Guest Blog by Dr Helen Armstrong

Wild deer in Scotland belong to no-one – in legal terms they are res nullius. Yet this public resource has traditionally been managed exclusively by the owners of land. How to ensure the public interest in the private management of a public resource remains a challenge and, in this guest blog, Dr Helen Armstrong provides some thoughts on the way forward.

Dr Armstrong is an ecologist who has spent more than 25 years providing advice and carrying out research on the management of deer, sheep and cattle, and their impacts, in the British uplands. She has worked for Forest Research, Scottish Natural Heritage and the James Hutton Institute. In 2012 she set up her own consultancy.

The future of deer management in Scotland

To continue the discussion of deer management started by Duncan Halley in his guest blog (Hjorteviltforvaltning i Norge, 23 Jan 2015), here are some thoughts on how deer management differs between Scotland and Norway, along with some suggestions of how we might start to make deer management in Scotland compatible with the regeneration and expansion of woodland (for a discussion of the advantages of increasing woodland and shrub cover in Scotland see: Armstrong, Holl & Halley, Restoring the Scottish Uplands). I have focussed primarily on deer management in the uplands i.e. the Highlands and Southern Uplands. The increase in roe deer numbers in lowland, and peri-urban, areas is also of concern but presents different challenges.

Differences between Scotland and Norway:

  1. In Scotland, there are far fewer land owners than in Norway. Since the right to shoot deer, in both countries, resides with the land owner on whose land the deer are present at any time, shooting rights are in the hands of far fewer people in Scotland than in Norway. This means that, in Norway, far more people hunt and many of these hunters harvest only a few deer to provide venison for friends and family. Deer hunting in Scotland is primarily carried out for sport; as let stalking or as a recreational activity for the family and friends of the land owner. In areas where trees have been planted, or are being encouraged to regenerate naturally, and where deer fences are not desirable or are too expensive, it is carried out principally to protect young trees from browsing. Venison is produced largely as a by-product of these other activities. This is despite the fact that demand for venison in the UK is growing rapidly, to the point where it is not being met by local sources. In 2012, around 20% of the venison coming onto the market in Scotland was imported, largely from New Zealand and Poland.
  2. In Norway, absentee ownership of productive land (as opposed to holiday cabins) is not allowed, unlike in Scotland where any individual or organization, based anywhere in the world, can buy land. Absentee landowners are often less involved, and less interested, in the approach taken to deer management on their land than are those are who are resident. As a result, persuading landowners in Scotland to adopt an approach to deer management that takes into account wider public interests can be a difficult task.
  3. In Scotland, Highland estates where deer stalking is the main land use tend to be valued on the basis of the number of red deer stags that are shot each year, regardless of the size and quality of the stags. This is despite many recent estate purchases having been by private individuals, or Non-Governmental Organisations, that have nature conservation, not sport shooting, as a primary aim. In Norway, by contrast, land is valued on the basis of its type and quality as well as that of all its potential outputs. Currently, maintaining the capital value of a Scottish stalking estate entails maintaining the annual take of stags at as high a level as possible. Traditional deer managers often believe that, to achieve this, the estate needs to hold large numbers of hinds that will, in turn, produce large numbers of stag calves. As a consequence of the resulting intense competition for food and the lack of shelter from woodland, Scotland’s hill deer are small and stag trophy heads are unimpressive by European standards. On many estates deer are fed in winter to avoid high levels of mortality. As in Norway, the social life of many of the people who own land in Scotland is bound up with the culture of sport shooting. The maintenance of these cultures is not dependent, however, on having artificially high populations of deer. The apparent reluctance on the part of some land owners to take action voluntarily to reduce the damaging impacts of the current high numbers of deer is therefore more likely to be related both to the outdated system of assessing capital values and to entrenched ideas of what constitutes good deer management, than it is to any potentially damaging effect on sporting culture.
  4. In Norway, the impact of deer on the environment is monitored by those who have the right to shoot deer. Numbers of deer are required to be maintained at a level that does not compromise the public good. In Scotland, those with the right to shoot deer have no duty to either monitor the impacts of deer or to limit their impact on the public good. As a result, high deer densities across much of the country are preventing woodland from regenerating naturally, cause large numbers of road traffic accidents (RTAs) every year and promote high tick numbers that, in turn, may be contributing to the increasing incidence of Lyme disease. All of these have a high public cost. There is around 2,250 km of fencing on the National Forest Estate in Scotland (land managed on our behalf by Forestry Commission Scotland; FCS). Between 2010 and 2013 FCS spent around £4 million on deer fencing to allow young trees to escape from browsing. This is a cost not borne by competing timber producers in other European countries such as Norway, where fencing for this purpose is unknown. The Scottish Government has a target to expand woodland cover from the current 17% to 25%. The cost of achieving this would be considerably reduced if deer numbers were brought down to a level where deer fencing was not needed.
  5. Unlike Scotland, Norway has in place a modern system of wildlife management. This requires annual counting of deer numbers over large areas, the collection of information on every deer shot and the assessment of deer impacts on woodland and other habitats. To achieve this requires a national system of oversight to ensure that appropriate methods are developed, that those doing the monitoring are trained and that the information returned is of a high quality. A similar system in Scotland would tell us how many deer there are and what impacts they are having. Data on RTAs and, ideally, also on the impact of deer on tick densities and the incidence of Lyme disease would also help inform deer population targets. A Government Agency (most likely Scottish Natural Heritage) would need to collate and analyse all these data, most of which would be provided by land owners and hunters. They would then advise each Deer Management Group, of which there are currently around 70 in Scotland, as well as individual landowners, on appropriate deer management. This would include the setting of harvest levels. All this costs money, but the Norwegian system is funded from fees paid by hunters and there is no reason why the same approach could not be taken in Scotland.
  6. Scotland currently has much less woodland cover than does Norway (17% v 33%), even though a greater proportion of Scotland is climatically suited to woodland. Much Norwegian woodland is semi-natural, and so contains more forage for deer than do our dense conifer plantations. Roe deer are almost always found living in, or near, woodland so they generally have access to relatively large areas of woodland. As a result, their impact on woodland is closely related to their density and this can be set such that woodland /RTA /tick objectives are met. Regular monitoring would allow any initial assessment of an appropriate density to be adjusted over time. Red deer are also woodland animals by preference but, in Scotland, the lack of woodland has forced many of them to live in the open where, unlike roe deer, they can survive, if not prosper. Red deer almost always seek shelter in woodland in winter, where it is available. Many of our open hill estates have so little woodland that the pressure on the remaining woods from deer (both red and roe) in winter is intense. As a result, densities of deer that are compatible with achieving woodland regeneration and expansion are often low and considerable effort would be needed to keep numbers low enough. The remaining deer would, however, produce more, bigger, and more viable offspring due to reduced competition for food. Individual deer would therefore produce more venison and stags would have bigger antlers that reached their full size at a younger age. As a result, sport shooting may remain financially viable. Numbers of jobs associated with deer management would need to be maintained, or increased, to keep up the high culling effort that would be needed.
  7. In Scotland, a ‘recovery’ phase is needed, where appropriate deer management allows woodland to regenerate and expand. Once we have increased woodland cover, higher numbers of deer could be supported and the sustainable harvest increased accordingly. Significant reductions in deer numbers are needed to give us the step-change in Scotland’s woodland cover that is needed to both meet woodland policy targets and to achieve the long-term health of the Scottish uplands (see Armstrong, Holl & Halley).

Deer Management Groups across the Highlands, with some financial support from SNH, are currently writing deer management plans. The aim of the plans is to present information, where available, on deer populations and impacts, and set population and cull targets in light of both private and public objectives. These plans will be publicly available and the success of DMGs in writing the plans, and making progress towards sustainable deer management, will be assessed in 2016. While many estates and DMGs are fully committed to producing well informed plans, some are less committed.

While the system remains voluntary it is unlikely that all estates, and all DMGs, will put in place modern deer management systems that adequately address public as well as private objectives. Those that do will need to bear the additional costs of taking this approach while those that do not will have fewer private costs but their deer management is likely to have higher public costs. A fairer system would legally oblige those who have the right to shoot deer to put in place a high standard of deer management that takes into account public as well as private objectives.

An Initial step towards this would be to put in place a modern, state-of-the-art system for the monitoring of deer populations and their impacts so that local population sizes, compatible with acceptable impact levels, can be determined. Deer population and harvest targets could then be set. Currently deer management is often tradition-based rather than being based on carefully collected deer population and impact information. This approach needs to change.

There should be a legal requirement for land owners to regularly count the deer on their land (including the number of young per female) and return this information to SNH. Count methods should be specified by SNH and regular checking would be needed to ensure accuracy. There should also be a requirement to return basic data on all deer shot (sex, weight and age class as a minimum). This would provide information on the deer population that could then be used to determine the size of harvest that will be needed to adjust deer numbers to a level that best meets all objectives. It would also allow land owners, and SNH, to track improvements in deer weight and productivity resulting from better management of populations.

Land owners should also be required to collect basic habitat impact information and return it to SNH. All of this is standard practice and legally required in most other European countries. A levy on land owners in return for the right to shoot deer, which in Scotland are currently owned by no-one, would pay for the system. The fee could be set at a rate per ha of land and might be increased if targets were not met, to reflect the consequent costs to society. The fee should not be per head of deer shot, since that might provide a dis-incentive to control populations. A land owner who did not participate, would be obliged to pass the deer management on their land to a person, or group, who would. If they could not find anyone else to run the deer management then, as a last resort, SNH would need to take over deer management on the estate. This might mean either carrying out appropriate deer management themselves or letting the hunting rights to others who will. Deer are a national resource and information relating to deer management should be publicly available.

Two other actions would help to ensure that deer numbers are brought down to sustainable levels:

  1. Extend harvest seasons. There is no welfare reason for not having a year-long season for stags and the hind season could be extended (deer managers can currently apply to SNH for an extension for reasons of habitat /forestry/ agricultural protection). The current seasons were put in place to protect deer when numbers were low; but that is not the current requirement. All hunters should be required to hold an appropriate qualification (as in Norway).
  2. Discourage winter feeding of deer. This is a common practice for hill red deer and results in populations that are artificially higher than the habitat can support. If deer numbers were lower there would be no need for winter feeding.

These three actions would have a major impact on the way that deer are managed as well as on their numbers. They would also provide the information needed to take the next steps of setting target deer densities and harvests at a local level to minimize conflicts and maximize the benefits of the national deer resource to all the people of Scotland.

Helen Armstrong
Broomhill Ecology
1 April 2015

In this article, entitled Hjorteviltforvaltning i Norge (Deer management in Norway), Dr. Duncan Halley and Dr. Erling Solberg of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research describe the framework for deer management and wildlife management in Norway.

Dr. Duncan Halley was born and educated in Scotland. He moved to Norway in 1993, where he works on wildlife management, restoration ecology, and Scotland/Norway landscape management comparisons. Dr. Erling Solberg is a leading researcher on deer management in Norway and an active hunter. They are research ecologists at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), Norway’s leading applied ecology institute (www.nina.no). Contact: duncan.halley@nina.no 

The Scottish Government’s proposed land reform bill contains a very modest proposal for improving the democratic accountability in relation to the management of this public resource by private interests. To achieve a wildlife management system fit for the 21st century, however, more fundamental reform is needed. The Norwegian experience offers some insight into what might be involved.

Guest Blog by Duncan Halley & Erling Solberg, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research

Land Reform legislation in 2015 will include strengthened powers to allow the authorities to regulate deer populations in Scotland. Further action is promised from 2016 if the current voluntary system “has not produced a step change in the delivery of effective deer management”.

It seems likely that action would follow the precedent set in the recent Wild Fisheries Review, where the remit was to:

“develop and promote a modern, evidence-based management system for wild fisheries fit for purpose in the 21st century, and capable of responding to the changing environment”;

and

“manage, conserve and develop our wild fisheries to maximise the sustainable benefit of Scotland’s wild fish resources to the country as a whole and particularly to rural areas”.

Here we present a brief look at what a modern system, functioning not far from Scotland, can look like. South West Norway is on the same latitude as Northern Scotland and is similar in landforms and climate – hilly to mountainous and highly oceanic. The deer resource in the region is mainly red and roe deer, though there are also some moose and reindeer. (1) Here we discuss the system as it applies to red and roe deer.

Landowners in Norway, as in Scotland, do not own the wildlife on their land but do own the hunting rights to game animals such as red and roe deer, and the carcasses that legal hunting produces. These rights can be, and in many cases are, sold.

Modern deer management in Norway is the result of development and refinement over many decades. The core of the system is a partnership of government, landowners, and hunters, each with a defined role. This is backed by professional wildlife management skills, monitoring of harvests and populations to provide high quality data for future management, and binding harvest management plans which regulate and maintain population levels of the national game resource in accordance with democratically accountable national, regional and local goals. This has included in some regions managed reductions in populations to ensure natural forest regeneration (which local and regional authorities are required to plan for, and landowners to achieve, see below).

The system has been effective in managing the resource at sustainable levels, which take into account wider environmental, social and economic interests. It enjoys broad public support.

The government has been keen to encourage a market for wild game meat. Food Safety Authority regulations for sale of meat on the open market by hunting rights owners, hunting teams, and/or individual hunters are simple and the system efficient. This has considerably expanded the market, to the benefit of hunting rights owners, hunters, and consumers.

Image: Hunting in Norway (Erling Solberg)

Who does what?

The Norwegian Environment Agency oversees the regulation of the system. It determines and finances research and monitoring requirements and determines the normal hunting seasons.

The Regional authorities (fylkeskommuner) are responsible for building management competence at local level among Municipalities (kommuner) and landowners, for guidance on population management at a regional level in accordance with wider societal goals such as biodiversity, prevention of overgrazing, and road safety; and for overseeing coordination among hunting rights owners and local councils to attain regional management goals. (2)

Municipalities (kommuner) have the authority and responsibility for managing local harvest levels in accordance with overall regional goals and with directing harvest levels at a local level with regard to minimizing conflicts with e.g. traffic safety, biodiversity, woodland regeneration, agriculture, and public enjoyment of nature. They issue the final harvest permits, can extend the usual hunting season, and must report permit levels and actual harvests to the National Deer Register. They may also report results of local monitoring. Section 9 of the Forest Law of 2005 mandates that Municipalities (kommuner) investigate deer damage to woodland regeneration and incorporate this in harvest management planning.

The owners of hunting rights are responsible for population regulation through a binding harvest plan for the hunting beat (vald), a defined area of land for which a named individual is responsible for relations with the authorities; and for coordination with neighbouring beats. They must also comply with Section 6 of the Forest Law of 2005, which requires satisfactory levels of woodland regeneration following any harvest of wood.

The police and National Nature Inspectorate have a legal right to inspect hunters in the field (to check licences, etc.), which may be delegated to Municipality (kommune) hunting monitors. Municipalities (kommuner) can require that harvested deer are brought to designated points for inspection.

Setting Harvest levels

Data on deer populations is collected centrally and maintained by the National Deer Register (www.hjortevilt.no) on a public internet database. This data, and the population plan submitted by the hunting rights owner, is the basis for determining harvest permit levels for each beat. Deer may not be hunted without a harvest permit.

Permits are issued by the Municipalities (kommuner) to the hunting rights owner, based on the tools available at the National Deer Register website, local consultations, and the population management plan for the beat submitted by the owner.

A population management plan for up to 5 years ahead (may be for a shorter period) is obligatory and can be for one or more (contiguous) beats. It must specify annual harvests (stags and hinds by age group), often in the form of a minimum % of younger animals and a maximum of older ones. The authorities must approve these plans, and in particular must ensure harvest levels are in accordance with local, regional and national population management goals. Approval can be withheld for not being compatible with, or withdrawn for failure to achieve in practice, these goals.

In the absence of an approved plan the Municipality (kommune) sets a harvest quota in accordance with local and regional and national population management goals.

Image: Hunting in Norway. Taking a meal break (Erling Solberg)

Using harvest permits

The owner of the hunting rights may use him/herself, give away, or sell any part or all of the permitted offtake in a free market. Typically, the sale of hunting rights is financially structured by the owner in a way that gives a strong incentive to achieve the required offtake, as the owner remains legally responsible for achieving offtake levels.

Reporting requirements

Each hunting beat must report annually offtake levels broken down by age and sex, within 14 days of the end of the hunting season. These are publically available in the National Deer Register.

The hunter individually must also, when required by the authorities, report the number, age, and sex of harvested deer; report total numbers of deer seen; and provide specified animal parts (typically one side of the lower jaw) for verification of harvest levels, population monitoring, and research purposes.

Training requirements

All hunters resident in Norway must pass a written exam on hunting law and regulation, reporting requirements, species identification, and firearms safety to obtain a hunter’s licence. They must also pass a test of shooting accuracy every year at an approved firing range.

Non-resident hunters may hunt if they can produce equivalent qualifications from their home country.

Image: Grouse shooting and fishing for char and trout (Erling Solberg)

Financing the system

To hunt in Norway a hunter must purchase an annual Hunter’s Fee Card from the central government. This is separate from any fees paid to the owner of hunting rights. Hunters also pay tag fees for each red deer harvested to the Municipality (kommune). There is no tag fee for roe deer. The revenue generated is dedicated to running the management system and to support local game promotional projects.

Norway is of course socially different to Scotland, and has had a different institutional history. Introducing a modern system of deer management would have to take this into account. However, the principle of managing a public resource for the common good through a democratically accountable system, on the basis of solid information on actual populations and on the population levels which will maximize that common good, and where landowners have the right to the offtake determined and the responsibility for achieving it, is fully transferable. A system attaining these goals and enjoying broad public support is achievable, and can be achieved.

A working example can be seen an hour’s flight from Scotland.

NOTES

(1) Moose were native to Scotland. It is probable that reindeer became extinct naturally, as suitable habitat is restricted for climatic reasons.

(2) There is a two tier system of local government in Norway in some ways analogous to the former Scottish Regional/District system. The powers at each level are more extensive than was the case in Scotland. Municipalities have an average population of 11,800 compared to 163,000 per local authority in Scotland.