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Deer Control in Scotland

The Regulation of deer control when crops are affected in Scotland since 2012.

BDS is of the opinion that there may be a need for a greater understanding of the issues of shooting at female deer in September and that we are concerned about the news that Forest & Land Scotland have advised their staff and contractors that, if acting according to Best Practice and their own judgement, they may make full use of the regulations introduced in 2012  which allow them to shoot female deer and their dependents under the General Authorisations enacted in the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act 2011, BDS appreciates that this concern is limited to the very few instances when events, unfortunately, differ from plans and that there are risks if adult females are shot in September.

We hope that those contemplating taking a shot consider carefully the Best Practice covering this situation, taking into consideration the apparent absence of obvious dependents, the visibility of the entire deer group, the correct pairing of dam and calf, and the wisdom of shooting at female deer in September.

We acknowledge that the regulations permit the shooting of female deer and their dependents from 1 September but hope that there will only be a minority interested in this practice; should they be found not adhering to Best Practice, or even potentially abusing welfare aspects, they should be reported for such activity.

Click Here to read the Forest & Land Scotland statement explaining their position.

The History.

Deer have generally been protected in some way since ancient times, not to mention Norman laws of hunting, more recently by the provision of Closed Seasons, specifically set out in the Westminster Deer Act 1959, this has accommodated the deer managers interests and seemed natural periods in which to control deer.

Since 1959 much regulation, National and devolved, has been introduced to address various elements of the deer management sector, including separate instruments concerning ballistics, seasons, night shooting, Competence, Wild Game Meat Hygiene requirements, and finally the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 and its subsequent amendments within the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act 2011. One element of the deer management that had remained unaltered throughout this generational period and the new Act was the control of deer if they were causing damage to crops, which include of course trees. Under the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 section 26 provisions, landowners and their staff are free to control deer, without any constraints, at any time if they thought that they had reasonable grounds for believing that the deer would cause serious damage on arable, improved grassland or enclosed woodland; at the time there were no rules governing the use of this exemption from the normal Close Seasons.

Changes to the s26 and s5 of the 1996 Act by the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act 2011, (WANE Act), began the process of clarifying and instituting controls onto land occupiers and their rights to shoot any deer at any time to a more managed arrangement.

This prepared the way for the provision of:

General Authorisations which state: if damage is likely to occur permitted eligible occupiers, under the criterion stated, may control deer lawfully.

 Specific Authorisations which give absolute protection for females in the period of primary dependency, requiring an interested party to apply for dispensation from the Statutory Close Seasons to undertake a cull.

The details of what constitutes a valid consideration and what issues required determination was discussed at length with the sector, the conclusions were:

  • It was permitted to shoot any juvenile under one year old anytime; there are no welfare grounds of a dependency nature.
  • Male deer not having the welfare needs of adult females, (perhaps a debatable point), could be shot on any day.
  • Females, however, could not be shot during the prime period of dependency. Given some uncertainty about the length of the period of social dependency (during which juveniles continue to dependent socially on the dam) this was defined purely in relation to known periods of nutritional dependency and thus in this instance, this was limited to the period in which a calf would normally derive the majority of its nutrition from, (was dependent on), its mother’s milk. Based largely on a report commissioned from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology this was assessed as 12 weeks, (post-natal). The Normal Distribution of calving dates peaks prior to 1 June, so 1 September is theoretically a suitable starting date for the General Authorisation.[i]

The start date of the Specific Authorisation became co-terminus with roe deer does Close Season and start on 1 April for all species and the period of protection was reduced to as short a period as it was scientifically possible to identify, to appease those with an economic interest in the growing of crops. ii


Occasional incidents when females were shot late summer were noted and so BDS, (through John Bruce’s connections as an employee of the Transitional Deer Panel), was drawn in to discussions at an early stage, 10 August 2011to consider the implementation of the altered Deer Act. The Deer Panel[ii]i had been engaged by SNH in 2010 and met frequently to consider various reviews and proposals arising from ongoing changes to the Act, this topic being one of them.  However, the development and completion of the General Authorisations and Specific Authorisations went ahead swiftly without consultation, not even with the appointed Deer Panel. The Deer Panel were to meet in their customary manner with a Director of SNH on 15 March 2012. At this meeting the faite accompli Authorisation process was announced to us, with no prior opportunity offered for discussion just at the same moment it was being announced to the public by the senior deer officer. Authorisations, General and Specific were to be in force as from 1 April 2012.

We, the Deer Panel members did take the opportunity of stating our opinion that the opening date was too early and that it was bizarre to have been engaged with as a Panel to then not be permitted opportunity to speak on this crucial matter. On behalf of BDS, John Bruce as Scottish Secretary engaged in continuous discussion and objection but to no avail.

Subsequent correspondence in support of the dates selected attempted to explain the balance of interests in the topic, farmers and forester, animal welfare interests and commercial stalking etc., the main issues included; the protection of young trees, the protection of crops, and the provision of a protection period which didn’t exist previously.

A consultation was held in 2013, to consider the experiences of the recently implemented arrangements, but we were advised that there had been insufficient public interest in the dates selected as to warrant any alterations, despite our personal attempts to persuade SNH.

A further wider consultation of all deer Authorisations was undertaken in 2016, a Deer panel convened under Section 4 of the Deer Act reviewed the various authorisations and concluded that such authorisations are required and that no changes were required to the dates of the General and Specific Authorisations. They did state that there is a need for more research into deer dependency periods.

In general; BDS was supportive of the progression from laissez-faire to regulatory controls which introduced clear protection periods, (which didn’t exist previously), clarified the justifications required and clarified which animals could be culled, all was developing well until the opening dates of the General Authorisation were announced, the closing dates changes were acceptable. Arguments were extremely heated and points were well made but the dates have stuck, but so have two main issues, and one issue of administration.

  • Welfare risks.
    1. We are not convinced that 1 September is acceptable due to the height of cover which confuses the situation in many ways.
    2. There remains a huge welfare risk of orphaning.
  • There is a welfare risk by disturbance, especially in high cover.
  1. It was noted in a summary by SNH that there “is potential for further research regarding the period of calf dependency”. A review of science since these dates were determined needs to be undertaken.
  • Damage
    1. We are not convinced that significant damage will be inflicted between 1 September and 1 October, or even 21 October.
    2. To delay the start of the Autumn General Licence until 1 October or later would significantly increase the administrative burden upon SNH.

We are pleased that Specific Authorisations have not been granted without a serious site-specific requirement, but remain opposed to the 1 September as the date of a reduction in the protection of females and their young, and will state such at every opportunity.

We acknowledge that the regulations permit the shooting of female deer and their dependents from 1 September but hope that there will only be a minority interested in this practice, should they be found not adhering to Best Practice or even potentially abusing welfare aspects they should be reported for such activity.

For a sight of the full regulation see the information set out here, on the newly named Nature Scot website:,1%20April%20and%2031%20August.


[i] Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (Natural Environment Research Council), CEH Project No.:-C02360 DCS RP43 (RP28 extension). “Deer Welfare: Calving & Independence dates, 31 May 2004. R.J.Irvine.


  1. Note that there were already in place Licences for the shooting of deer at night, and, for the shooting of deer out-with the closed seasons, (customarily these were not issued for the summer period to 31 August). The justification for the shooting of deer at night was extended to the interests of public safety where day time shooting had been proven unsuccessful in the WANE 2010 Act.


i[ii] The Deer Panel were employed by SNH, just after the SNH subsumed DCS in 2010, as representatives of the deer sector who could advise the Directors of SNH of the likely sectorial reactions to SNH initiatives, developments and proposals. The Deer Panel consisted of Richard Cooke, Chairman ADMG, Niall Rowantree, experienced deer manager, Pete Mayhew, Land manager for RSPB and John Bruce, BDS representative and private land manager.