What’s wrong with ‘Managing deer for climate, communities and conservation’?

new document has just been published campaigning for new laws to kill deer in Scotland. 

It’s from a large coalition of organisations. They cover areas like land management, forestry, wildlife conservation, cultural heritage, community partnership, nature education and outdoor recreation. Together they have hundreds of thousands of members. It’s called ‘Managing deer for climate, communities and conservation’, and proposes new laws to kill deer in Scotland. Here it is:

They ought to be deeply ashamed of themselves.

Here’s how the John Muir Trust introduces it:

“A coalition of environmental, community, wildlife, forestry, and outdoor recreational groups is urging the Scottish Government to bring in enhanced statutory regulation to ensure the nation’s deer population is managed effectively and sustainably for the benefit of communities and the natural environment. This is especially urgent, says the coalition, in the light of the accelerating climate and biodiversity crisis.”

Let me translate that for you:

  • “Enhanced statutory regulation” = new laws.
  • “Ensure the nation’s deer population is managed effectively and sustainably” = to kill deer and go on killing deer.
  • “For the benefit of communities” = not just for the benefit of incredibly wealthy landowners, but other people can get a share of the spoils.
  • “In the light of the accelerating climate and biodiversity crisis” – and we want to say we’re doing it for the latest, most fashionable reasons, even though that’s not actually the truth.

Environmental euphemism buzzword bingo

“Ensuring the nation’s deer population is managed effectively and sustainably for the benefit of communities and the natural environment,” is the perfect example of environmental euphemism buzzword bingo. This is clearly a marketing document, not a presentation of the science.

They continue:

“…setting out the case for a new approach to deer management that prioritises public interest objectives, such as reducing carbon emissions, supporting local communities, and improving biodiversity.”

Using climate as the first reason for killing deer is dishonest and ridiculous. It’s shocking that so many public membership organisations should be promoting a solution to climate change which involves killing huge numbers of wild animals by shooting. Butterfly Conservation Scotland? Want to shoot deer. Froglife? Want to shoot deer. RSPB Scotland? Want to shoot deer. Woodland Trust Scotland? Want to shoot deer. Aren’t there better things which wildlife and conservation organisations could be doing to promote and protect the natural world than encouraging killing through shooting? Aren’t their members outraged?

“WE RECOGNISE THAT DEER have a vital part to play in a balanced ecosystem, and we believe that by managing their numbers strategically, we could bring about a wide raft of public benefits…”

My experience is that anyone who writes “We recognise that” is pretentious. The word ‘believe’ means ‘holding something to be true without the evidence’. And the word ‘strategically’ is simply used to sound important. That sums up the whole document. More than half of Scotland’s agricultural land is used for upland sheep farming and mixed sheep and beef cattle farming. Do they believe that “by managing their numbers strategically, we could bring about a wide raft of public benefits” applies to sheep and cattle too?

The document is a classic case of solutionism; deciding on the solution first and then trying to find reasons to justify it. There’s been no process for looking at the environmental issues we face and coming up with creative and innovative solutions to meet them. There’s not even any evidence of consultation in creating this document. It’s a case of “The solution is to shoot deer. What were the problems which led us to that conclusion? What’s the most persuasive rhetoric to justify it?” It’s a a case of shoot deer first, ask questions later.

The document continues:

“SCOTLAND’S DEER HAVE always been an important part of our cultural and natural heritage. However, for several centuries they have had no natural predators – so require human management.”

Deer don’t require human management. Humans require deer management. It’s quite a different thing.

The answer is to reintroduce their natural predators. It’s clearly a ‘problem’ of our own making, so why not solve it the simplest way possible? Bring back their predators. It’s what we’ve been missing for several centuries. All we need is a few packs of wolves in Scotland and any deer ‘problem’ would be solved, naturally.

Here are their ‘Ten public benefits of a new approach’, with my responses to each:

1. More trees. 

“Reducing grazing pressures would help accelerate the spread of woodland – especially native and deciduous species – thus producing a cleaner, greener, healthier environment.”

Where is the evidence for this? If new tree seedlings are the most delicious food around, even a much smaller population of deer will still stop the regeneration of woodlands. What about rabbits? There are still 1,000,000 or so of them in Scotland, despite their collapse in numbers. There are also still 600,000 breeding sheep on Scotland’s hills and fewer than 300,000 red deer. Shouldn’t we stop taxing working people to pay rich landowners subsidies for sheepwrecking our most beautiful remote wildernesses first? Scotland’s farmers don’t farm sheep; the animals are incidental. They farm Government subsidies with every sheep a loss-maker paid for by taxation.

If we want to accelerate the spread of trees we should stop subsidies for animal farming, take the uplands into public ownership and rewild them with natural predators.

It continues:

“increasing natural woodland cover to strengthen biodiversity, soak up carbon and reduce flooding”

“Stengthening biodiversity” is another meaningless environmental euphemism. It means industrial-scale wildlife farming by killing animals we don’t want, to encourage those we do. 13% of Scotland is driven grouse moor. Shouldn’t we stop burning that first?

If we want to increase natural woodland, shouldn’t we ban driven grouse shooting? If we want to strengthen biodiversity, shouldn’t we ban driven grouse shooting and remove its associated wildlife crime, particularly the killing of Hen Harriers, as highlighted by the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit? If we want to reduce flooding, shouldn’t we ban burning of moors for driven grouse shooting?

No, let’s kill deer shall we?

2. Healthier peatlands. 

“Trampling and grazing dry out the soil, thus diminishing the ability of peat to absorb carbon and store greenhouse gases.”

Even red deer walking on the ground is too much to bear? Really? 13% of Scotland’s land is used for the industrialised carnage of driven grouse shooting. Shouldn’t we stop burning that first?

If we want healthier peatlands, maybe we should stop extracting it for gardening products and burning it on grouse moors?

3. More rural jobs. 

“Lower densities would require more stalkers. Drawing upon existing skills and expertise across the private, public and voluntary sectors, deer management could be expanded to include community models of hunting as widely practised in Europe, giving an economic and social boost to our most sparsely populated areas.”

Once they have reduced deer numbers, what happens to all the current jobs in ‘deer management’? Do you really need more stalkers the fewer deer you have? They haven’t really thought this through, have they? We create jobs, buy guns, train people, kill the deer; and then what? There are fewer deer and it all collapses again.

“diversifying and strengthening local economies in our most sparsely populated areas”

“Diversifying… local economies.” Why not diversify them into something else rather than shooting deer in the head? What about wildlife tourism in natural wilderness?

If we want more rural jobs, why not set Scotland up as the world’s foremost eco-holiday wildlife and nature destination?

Just look at what Ospreys have done to revitalise the economy in Cumbria and Scotland. One of the biggest winners has been a trout farm which charges photographers to take photographs of Osprey taking their fish. Imagine Wolves and Goshawks and Scottish Wildcats and Lynx as major tourist attractions.

No, let’s kill deer shall we?

4. Reduced rural inequality. 

“Getting more people involved at local level in planning and carrying out deer management could help ensure that revenues from stalking and venison are distributed more widely and fairly.”

‘Could help’? If we want to reduce rural inequality, how about taxing the rich, stopping the Government subsidising wealthy landowners and redistributing land?

If we want to reduce rural inequality, how about investing in rural transport, early years services, fast broadband and education? Perhaps a taxation system which reduces the inequality of land ownership?
Scotland has the most inequitable land ownership in the west. It has survived almost intact since the Scottish Reformation in 1560. More than half of Scotland is owned by fewer than 500 people

No, let’s kill deer shall we?

It continues:

“For centuries, red deer stalking in Scotland has relied on paying clients and guests of private landowners, supplemented by professional stalkers. If cull targets are raised, that mix could change. In other parts of Europe, communities are more involved in deer control. In Norway, for example, over half a million people – almost ten per cent of the population – are registered hunters. Hunting on state land is considered a communal source of sustainable food, and local people have priority use. Game meat is an important part of Norwegian food culture, rather than a by-product of trophy hunting as is often the case here.”

Trying to be like another country doesn’t work in the UK. Just look at our attempts to have a system of relaxed social drinking, like in France, which was an argument for relaxing closing times in licensing laws. Town centres now have field hospitals on Friday and Saturday nights to deal with the alcohol poisoning of near comatose people who are still drinking into the early hours.

I’m horrified at the idea of having ten percent of the population of Scotland as registered hunters being seen as a positive social change. That’s 540,000 gun users in Scotland. Do you think it would be wise to give 1 in every 10 people in the most deprived areas of Glasgow, Inverclyde and West Dunbartonshire easy access to hunting weapons and training in how to use them?

Here’s what happens, where you have a culture of hunting, in France: “The death toll has already surpassed the seven who were killed last year out of a total 131 recorded accidents.”The Telegraph.

“Bambi’s mum for dinner, anyone?”

This plan is to reduce deer numbers, as a one-off, and then maintain that lower population. That means a temporary glut while the population is reduced. How likely are British people to start eating deer in large amounts? British people are seriously disconnected from nature and have more natural experiences through Disney cartoons and David Attenborough programmes than they do in nature. British people are also very sentimental about the natural world. Where is the evidence that societal values will change?

Venison will end up being given away, like grouse, or thrown into stinkpits.

5. Reduced need for fencing. 

“Deer fences are costly to taxpayers, visually intrusive, a barrier to public access and damaging to wildlife and habitats. Moreover, excluding deer from large areas of land increases their density and intensifies their impacts outside the fenced areas.”

Two-thirds of the cost of deer fencing is making the fences rabbit-proof. What will we do when we’ve killed the deer and trees still aren’t regenerating? Kill all the rabbits too? And what about those Squirrels? Anything else we need to kill?

If we want to reduce the need for deer fencing, why not introduce natural predators like wolves?

No, let’s kill deer shall we?

6. Improved deer welfare. 

“Red deer, like roe deer, are naturally woodland animals and in Scotland they are stunted compared to their European counterparts. In harsh winters many starve to death on the bare hillsides. Lower densities and fewer fences would enable them access to their natural habitat.”

Let’s kill deer because it’s better for them, shall we? Stunted? So are the sheep on Scotland’s hillsides. There’s less food and they spend more energy keeping warm.

Let’s improve deer health by shooting them in the head. That’ll do it. In fact, let’s improve human health and welfare by killing 90% of the human population, shall we? Can we have a new law and more guns please?

It’s natural for animals to get ill, get old and die. They’re not all meant to be fit and healthy. It’s not up to us to alleviate their suffering.

7. Safer rural roads. 

“SNH estimates there could be as many as 12,000 deer-related road accidents each year in Scotland – an average of over 30 a day
– resulting in between 50 and 100 human injuries
at a cost of many millions of pounds to insurance companies, the NHS and the emergency services.”

There’s no such thing as a road traffic accident; they are road traffic collisions. Road traffic collisions are generally caused by a main course of excessive speed with a side-order of alcohol consumption or mobile phone use.

Why would we stop at deer? How many collisions are there with horses, sheep and cattle? Cyclists? Shall we shoot them too? How about Badgers and foxes? Let’s kill Barn Owls so cars don’t collide with them, shall we? Here are the results of just one week of citizen science on Project Splatter:

Looking at the facts, we ought to be building wildlife-safe roads and stopping the unregulated introduction of 43 million Pheasants (and 9 million Red-legged Partridges) by the shooting industry into the countryside every year. Consider joining Wild Justice if the wilful destruction of our natural environment by millions of alien species for the profit of a few is of concern to you.

Scottish Badgers are a contributor to this ‘Managing deer’ document. Why not kill badgers as well to make roads safer? 50,000 badgers are killed on the UK’s roads every year. Should we shoot them first to reduce the number of vehicle collisions and the cost to the insurance industry?

If we want safer rural roads how about reducing and enforcing speed limits? How about reducing vehicle miles from unnecessary journeys? How about increasing fuel prices? How about reducing home to job distances? How about investing in high-speed rural broadband? How about self-driving cars and collision avoidance systems?

No, let’s kill deer shall we?

8. Fewer ticks. 

Scientists say that it is “highly likely” that the abundance of ticks in our outdoor environments is associated with the rise in deer numbers over the past 50 years, and that in turn may have contributed to increasing incidences of Lyme Disease.

‘Highly likely’ and ‘may have’. Is that the best evidence you have? Now we have the ticks, will reducing deer numbers reduce them? Where’s the evidence?

“Reducing tick numbers” by killing deer is like reducing human fleas by fighting wars. The argument used by owners of driven grouse moors and their gamekeepers for killing Mountain Hares is that they spread ticks to grouse. Do all the creators and sponsors of this document agree with shooting Mountain Hares too?

If we want fewer ticks, use insect repellant, wear long trousers, tuck your trousers in your socks and check yourself thoroughly after walking.

No, let’s kill deer shall we?

9. A cut in greenhouse gases. 

“As well as damaging emerging woodlands and peatlands, Scotland’s red deer alone produce 5,500 tonnes of methane each year – the equivalent of 137,500 tonnes of CO2. A 20 per cent reduction in numbers would save the carbon equivalent of around 15 million car miles on Scotland’s roads each year.

There are lies, damned lies and statistics. This is classic abuse of numbers for rhetorical effect. How much methane do Scotland’s cows, sheep and pigs produce? Shouldn’t we massively reduce their numbers first? How many car miles are there on Scotland’s roads each year? Shouldn’t we be reducing unnecessary journeys first? What about the rest of our wildlife? Worldwide? Let’s kill all ruminants, and carry on driving on our roads, shall we?

If we want to cut greenhouse gases then we should stop burning fossil fuels.

No, let’s kill deer shall we?

10. A stronger venison industry. 

“Doubling the annual deer cull in Scotland would potentially double revenues from this nutritious, low-fat premium protein which is already worth millions to Scotland’s rural economy.”

Since when did doubling the availability of a commodity double the income from it? Even the most basic study of economics and the effect on prices of increased supply would tell you that the price of venison would decrease with increasing supply unless demand expanded at the same rate. There’s a widespread aversion to eating dogs and horses in Britain. The same applies to deer. More people are contemplating becoming vegan than are considering eating Bambi’s mum.

What Scotland needs is to bring back deer’s natural predators, together with all the other wildlife we’ve killed to leave the natural world so critically out of balance. Scotland needs Wolves and Bears and Beavers and Lynx back where they belong. Nothing wild ‘requires human management’. It’s exactly because of human interference that Scotland’s wildlife is so denuded and imbalanced.

We live in wildlife poverty. These are the wildlife and nature groups which produced this shameful document:

  • Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
  • Butterfly Conservation Scotland – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
  • Cairngorm Campaign – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
  • Forest Policy Group – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
  • Froglife – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
  • John Muir Trust – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
  • National Trust for Scotland – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
  • North Harris Trust – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
  • Nourish Scotland – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
  • Ramblers Scotland – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
  • Reforesting Scotland – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
  • RSPB Scotland – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
  • Scottish Badgers – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
  • Scottish Raptor Study Group – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
  • Scottish Wild Land Group – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
  • Scottish Wildlife Trust – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
  • Trees for Life – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
  • Woodland Trust Scotland – you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

You all ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

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