Deer are a central component of Scotland’s ecosystems, contributing to vital natural processes through grazing, browsing, trampling, nutrient cycling and seed dispersal. Additionally, in many Scottish communities, deer stalking plays a significant role – providing jobs, food, and for some people, a sense of place and cultural identity.

Nobody contests the value of deer, or the affection these animals inspire. However, at high densities deer can negatively impact fragile peatlands and inhibit woodland regeneration, reducing biodiversity and impairing climate resilience, while adversely affecting economic productivity and even their own health.

THE CHALLENGE

How do we reach a compromise that everyone can sign up to?

Wherever the management of deer is discussed, there are entrenched and impassioned opinions. For decades, what is sometimes referred to as ‘the deer problem’ has been characterised by low trust and siloed thinking, with deer becoming a totem for tensions around wider changes in land management: How can ecological restoration and rural traditions coexist? What should Scotland's landscape look like in the future? Who should it serve and who should have a say? And how do we reach a compromise that everyone can sign up to?

In the absence of predators and with strong ties to sporting tradition, excessive deer numbers in many areas have become a barrier to the recovery of ecologically degraded land. The aim of the FIADH project is to encourage a new measure for successful deer management, which places greater emphasis on the recovery of ecological systems, leading to a more diverse, more productive and more resilient landscape, within which the vital role of professional land managers is maintained and valued.

Deer forests – a phenomenon peculiar to the Highlands of Scotland – are large areas of land managed primarily to maintain a resident population of red deer for sport shooting. In many parts of Scotland, these 'forests’ are characterised by an almost total absence of trees.

THE COMMON GROUND FORUM

Throughout the project we will work closely with The Common Ground Forum, a network of stakeholders from across Scotland’s upland deer sector, committed to diffusing the tensions that have stifled conversations around deer management, and encouraging a more collaborative, solutions-focused dialogue between different interest groups.

SCOTLAND: The Big Picture is a signatory to the Common Ground Accord, which sets a new standard for respectful, progressive conversations across traditionally contested areas.

When grazing pressure is reduced, a more dynamic, multi-dimensional landscape can emerge, supporting a more diverse range of species.

THE PROJECT

We acknowledge that management of deer motivates strong emotions, shaped by a cocktail of social, cultural and economic influences. However, we believe that an opportunity now presents itself.

In the coming years, SCOTLAND: The Big Picture will produce a range of multimedia resources as part of a wider outreach programme, focused on deer, their role in the Scottish landscape and their importance in rural life. FIADH will give a voice to a new generation of future-oriented deer stalkers and land managers, revealing how climate breakdown and ecological decline are motivating a change in attitudes, and looking at how these pioneers are working to revitalise the Scottish landscape, supporting healthy deer populations alongside a greater abundance and diversity of other wildlife.

FIADH: KEY OUTCOMES

Broader acknowledgement that everyone wants to see healthy deer in a climate resilient landscape.

Responsible custodianship of land places greater emphasis on the recovery of ecological systems.

Detoxification of the ‘deer debate’ with conflict being replaced by collaboration, and a sense of opportunity.

Professional land managers are trusted with ownership of environmental issues and are appropriately valued.

Scottish venison receives wider recognition as a sustainable natural harvest, and an ethical dietary choice.