During 2024, SCOTLAND: The Big Picture will produce a feature-length documentary, as part of a wider outreach programme, focused on deer, their role in the Scottish landscape and their importance in rural life.

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 (hunting with rifles) plays a significant role – providing jobs, food, and for some people, a sense of place and cultural identity.

THE CHALLENGE

Nobody contests the economic or cultural value of deer.

With Scotland’s large predators long gone, deer have proliferated, learning to thrive in our farmlands, our towns, and across huge areas of our uplands currently managed as sporting estates, where high deer numbers are often encouraged.

In many ways, theirs is a success story. 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.

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.

Nobody contests the economic or cultural value of deer, the affection these animals inspire, or the advantages of an ethical, environmentally positive wild venison harvest. Nor are deer to blame for the environmental situation we have created. And yet, unless we start managing deer and the landscapes they inhabit differently, we face a growing problem.

THE COMMON GROUND FORUM

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 conflict over deer often acting as a proxy for many of the vexed questions that surround the wider debate around rewilding: How can ecological restoration, rural traditions and a just transition coexist? What should Scotland's landscape look like in the future and who should it serve? Who should have a say? And how do we reach a compromise that everyone can sign up to?

Today, many people are working to diffuse the tensions that have stifled conversations around deer and land management, seeking to dispel the notion that we must choose between the needs of nature and those of people.

SCOTLAND: The Big Picture is proud to be part of the Common Ground Forum, a network of individuals and organisations who have come to a shared understanding that any changes to traditional deer management aimed at tackling the climate and biodiversity crises, must equally continue to support a healthy rural economy. We are also a signatory to the Common Ground Accord, which sets a new standard for respectful, progressive conversations across traditionally contested areas.

Crucially, we believe there is more common ground than is currently acknowledged, with much to be gained from detoxifying the debate around deer and highlighting the many benefits that can be enjoyed from maintaining a healthy deer population in a healthy landscape.

 

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

THE FILM

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.

We acknowledge that management of deer motivates strong emotions, shaped by a cocktail of social, cultural and economic influences. However, this film will highlight the opportunity that now presents itself – to encourage a new measure for successful deer management, commonly agreed as the development of a more resilient, more productive and more diverse landscape, within which the vital role of professional land managers and deer stalkers is valued and sustained.

KEY OUTCOMES

Greater acknowledgement that everyone wants to see healthy deer in a climate resilient landscape, supporting more diverse populations of wildlife.

Fears for the future of deer and the tradition of open hill deer stalking are replaced by optimism and opportunity.

Broader agreement on how deer management can contribute to the public good, through the recovery of ecological systems.

Detoxification of the debate around the 'deer problem’ with conflict over culls replaced with increased collaboration.

Acceptance that deer reductions are necessary, even if target densities will vary according to context.

Professional deer managers are trusted with ownership of environmental issues, becoming appropriately valued and enjoying greater respect.

Accepted metrics for responsible custodianship of the land place greater emphasis on natural processes and the functionality of complex ecosystems.

Wild Scottish venison receives broader support as an ethical, locally-sourced dietary choice, becoming an exemplar for the benefits of a sustainable natural harvest.