Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Who do Deer Belong To?

This is the answer Fay Rowantree, of West Highland Hunting, gave to a reader who commented on a recent Diary post about red deer. My apologies if you have already read it.

Wild deer in Scotland are considered in law as 'res nullius' which means that they do not belong to anyone. However, the owner/occupier or their agent has the right to kill and take within statutory seasons, and he/she can pass this right to to other individuals. However, only the owner/occupier or agent or duly authorised individuals can kill and take out of season, and only for the following reasons -

1. To prevent damage to agriculture - 'agriculture' here is considered to exclude common grazing and open range;
2. For damage to woodlands and commercial forestry or where they are likely to do damage;
3. To prevent damage to natural heritage features and designated sites;
4. In the interests of public safety ie carriageways or roads where they present a risk of accidents.

Throughout the period 1st April to 1st October anyone wishing to kill or take FEMALE deer requires by law authorisation from SNH who will investigate the case before issuing a license. Likewise, deer may not be killed and taken at night with the use of search lights or vision enhancing equipment without a licence from SNH. Anyone applying for a licence requires to be on the 'fit and competent' register and to have acquired the necessary qualifications or two referees to vouch for their competency and ability. Any person submitting deer carcasses for sale requires to hold 'trained hunter' status and needs to inspect the carcass and sign that it is fit for human consumption.

Individuals culling deer are required to make an annual return to government of the number taken as this helps to inform national and local deer management planning.

The Ardnamurchan peninsula is covered by the Ardnamurchan Deer Management Group which is currently completing a plan for the area which will be available for public consultation in the very near future. It will detail plans, management and culling levels for the whole peninsula.

The deer population on Ardnamurchan has changed little in number from the 1980s but there has been a general migration to the west. This is largely due to changes in forest structure and declining numbers of sheep. All culls are set to maintain the population at a sustainable level to secure employment, protect habitats, and provide a low carbon local food source.

It is always worth considering that wild deer present a huge opportunity for community involvement and generate around £140 million to the Scottish economy each year. Current open range deer populations are estimated at 275,000 and share the open range with a winter sheep population of 980,000 sheep. In natural heritage terms, only a small percentage of designated habitats are affected by deer (around 16%).

At this time of year, like all grazers, deer are attracted to fresh grass but in the next week or so, they will disperse into the woodlands and high ground as the grass comes away.

Anyone requiring further information should contact either West Highland Hunting which manages a number of highland estates and community interests or the local Ardnamurchan Deer Management Group.

Many thanks to Fay for this detailed answer.


  1. What about the "Wild" Goats that roam freely from Laga to Glenborrodale?

    1. Feral goats have been in Highland Scotland for at least 2500 years and at low levels are a beneficial browser.
      The history of goats in the area is well documented with many places owing there name to the goat.
      The Glenborrodale herd is around 17 in number and unlikely to grow significantly due to Sea eagle predation.

  2. In the 26 years since I got my decrofted house at Sanna and fenced the 0.2 of an acre I have never seen a red dear here.
    This Spring marauding deer have raided my garden several times. Four deer is the highest number I have seen at one time in Sanna, but I fear the numbers will rise in the future if the estate owners, who blithely profit from letting visitors shoot deer on their land, continue to neglect to repair their deer fences or limit the size of the herds.