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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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?
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.