A consultation issued by Defra and the Forestry Com-mission has produced proposals to reappraise how England’s burgeoning deer population is managed. Many of the consultation’s 21 proposals are relatively uncontroversial, such as supporting the development of the wild venison market, but others are bound to inspire lively debate.That there is a need to overhaul the system is not in question. Ian Tubby, Head of Policy and Advice at the Forestry Commission, said: “In England, due to sev-eral factors, including land use changes and a lack of natural predators, deer density and distribution have dramatically increased over the last century, and at such levels pose a significant risk to our woodlands, other animals that rely on this environment, and the deer themselves.” Some of the proposals, however, will not be univer-sally agreed upon.Among these are the proposals to end close sea-sons for stags and bucks, to allow the use of night vi-sion scopes to cull deer, and to introduce compulsory testing for deer managers. Out-of-season licenses for male deer have been is-sued in Scotland in recent years, though opponents say such licenses could be catastrophic for welfare and reduce deer to ‘vermin status’. (Supporters might argue that this is now an appropriate designation.)The argument for relaxing the laws around night shooting of deer is that: “The availability of high-quality affordable night-vision technology has in-creased the effectiveness and safety of night shoot-ing, which is now commonplace for species other than deer.” It is true that thermal imaging scopes have changed fox control, but in deer the practice could, for example, lead to poor animal selection of both sexes. And BASC’s Martin Edwards said the association did not support mandatory testing for deer managers: “There are many proposals put forward that are nec-essary and achievable, for the others the devil is in the detail. BASC does not support mandatory testing, as this will limit the ability to control deer and there is no evidence that it is required.”With a clear need to encourage people to stalk, rather than dissuade them, it will be important that we as a community get this right.
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