The Red Deer is emblematic of Scotland’s rugged uplands, but this association is starting to cause problems. Grazing by unsustainably high deer populations damages rare plant communities and leaves hillsides scarred with erosion. Furthermore, while high deer numbers might suggest that they are thriving, their welfare is suffering and they face high levels of winter mortality in these barren hills. Hugh Raven outlines the problem, and explains why a reduction in deer numbers would be better for both deer and the landscape.
As I write, an autumn gale comes thundering down the glen, howling around these sheltering stones like the clap of doom. It is wet, too, though mild yet. The grass still on the hills gives energy to the deer out there, which in this season turn their minds to procreation. But this is the same weather – persistent rain, stiff wind – that proves fatal at winter’s other end.