Biodiversity (Damage by Deer)

Question Time — Scottish Executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 22nd January 2004.

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Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party 2:30 pm, 22nd January 2004

To ask the Scottish Executive whether Scottish Natural Heritage has conducted an analysis concerning the impact of damage caused by deer on biodiversity and, if not, what plans it has to conduct such an analysis. (S2O-1151)

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

Scottish Natural Heritage uses information from a variety of sources to assess the importance of deer impacts on biodiversity. Further work is currently in hand to improve those sources, and SNH's site condition monitoring programme will assist in the evaluation of deer impacts on designated natural heritage features.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I noticed in the press this morning that Ross Finnie has undergone his operation. Obviously, we all wish him well and wish the deputy minister well in the Cabinet. [ Applause. ]

In order to protect biodiversity and the wider economic interests, will the minister accept the advice that he has received from the Deer Commission in its written submission on the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Bill? The commission has said that it requires more effective powers to deal with deer numbers and that, in particular, it wants a new power of appropriate compulsion that, unlike the current convoluted and bureaucratic powers that it has under section 8 of the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996, can be put into effect quickly and easily.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I am glad that the member has mentioned section 8 of the 1996 act, which puts significant powers at the Deer Commission's disposal. The commission's ability to take action when wild deer are damaging natural heritage sites will be further strengthened by the land management order provisions in our Nature Conservation (Scotland) Bill.

As a result, the Deer Commission and SNH have the powers to deal flexibly and imaginatively with deer problems when they arise and when damage to natural heritage has been caused. I will keep the situation under review and will be in constant dialogue with the commission on those issues.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Given the record numbers of deer in Scotland and the pressing need for a much more strategic and co-ordinated approach to deer management, does the minister agree that any analysis should address, in addition to biodiversity, the impacts of red deer on forestry, agriculture, crofting, traffic and recreational interests?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

Yes, although the member should recognise that responsibility for controlling deer rests in the first instance with the landowners and the land managers concerned. Of course, there are also disputes about the reliability of the figures for deer numbers in Scotland. Beyond that, I accept that we want to take the wider environmental impact of deer numbers on natural heritage under review. As I said to Bruce Crawford, we will do so in the context of the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

Is the minister aware that, in one day, Forest Enterprise slaughtered 97 deer on the Cobbler in Argyll forest park, which itself is within the new Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park? Does he consider that to be reasonable and sustainable deer management?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I was not aware that that had taken place on the Cobbler, but I am now. Presumably, we would have to put that incident in the context of the discussion and debate that we have just had on the overall numbers of deer in Scotland. If one takes the position that the deer are causing damage to our natural heritage in specific locations, it follows that action has to be taken to eradicate the problem. As the Forestry Commission is by far the largest owner of land in the country with a related deer problem, it is clearly in the position to take the lead on deer culling. None of what the member has said surprises me; however, as far as the problem on the Cobbler is concerned, we will examine what happened to find out whether the response was proportionate.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour

As convener of the cross-party group on animal welfare, I know that deer management is a big issue for us. Will the minister comment on the excellent partnership working that is being carried out in my constituency by the Balquhidder deer management group and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs deer management forum not only to resolve local deer management issues but, more important, to set up a model of best practice for the rest of Scotland?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

Yes, I am pleased to hear about that partnership working. Obviously we want to consider any example of good practice and roll it out across the country.

I should also point out that action has been taken not just through legislation but on a wide range of fronts. It is important to find out not only the impact of overall deer numbers but how local deer numbers are impacting on local habitats in Stirling, on the Cobbler and elsewhere.