Gamekeepers want talks on deer shooting

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Normalising the shooting of deer at night will have long-term implications for their welfare and distribution, say Scotland’s deer managers who want to be consulted on new control methods.

Public agencies are considering thermal and night vision equipment with a view to potentially legalising its use for reducing deer numbers.

Shooting deer at night is prohibited in Scotland unless authorised by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and is not legal in countries such as Germany, Sweden, Denmark or Austria.

However, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA) believes Scotland’s deer are already changing their behaviour due to being targeted by controllers in darkness.

Applications to SNH to control deer at night to protect forestry have risen by more than 300 per cent in the past decade, as public agencies move from fencing as a management solution.

The SGA believes this, coupled with recreational disturbance, is causing deer to move into areas such as the lowlands, where mounting damage and vehicle collisions are occurring.

It fears that, if new technology normalises night shooting, there will be animal health consequences as well as major changes to the way deer behave.

‘There are a number of positive uses for this equipment in spotting and counting deer, but what we ask is professional deer managers are consulted on how the technology is used in future,’ said SGA vice-chairman Peter Fraser.

‘There is a wider picture. Deer feed in the morning and rest up during the day. However, due to more people using the hills, they can be on the move in daylight and they are also getting targeted now at night to protect forestry. They are constantly harassed, which causes them to disperse and impacts on health.

‘While the technology has merits, it could further legitimatise night shooting in Scotland and we will move further away from managing deer in daylight and in season which is better for welfare, safety, quality venison and is more selective and humane than just killing any deer.

‘We need to be asking why we have got to a place where night shooting of an iconic species  has become more of a first resort, yet it is illegal in many European countries.’

Studies on roe deer in Denmark showed that, even where deer were not targeted at night, daytime disturbance caused deer to miss out on feeding after being disturbed by recreational activity.

It was concluded that several disturbances per day could affect physical fitness and reproductive potential, even without deer also being placed under additional pressure at night.

Deer distribution also changed during the study and similar multi-party research is now under way in Glen Lyon, involving red deer.

‘Thermal and night vision equipment use needs to be seen in the wider context. That is what we want,’ said stalker Lea MacNally.

‘Better forest design and strategic fencing would eliminate many of the problems some feel are driving a need for the technology and, in the hands of poachers, it could make detection and conviction almost impossible. If the Deer Act is to be changed to permit its use for managing deer, consideration should be given to licensing it, with compulsory training.’