Scotland may cull deer in greater numbers to reduce road accidents

A white-tailed deer
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Deer cause an estimated 7,000 collisions a year, with experts blaming new lowland and urban woodlands for population surge. The Guardian reports

Blame the local wildlife for dangerous drivers? 

Wild deer may be culled in much larger numbers across lowland and urban Scotland to limit their rapidly increasing population and reverse a steep rise in road accidents.

Wildlife experts have found that the growth in new lowland and urban forests and green spaces has led to a surge in deer numbers, which has increased the rate of crashes and collisions on motorways and major roads in heavily-populated areas.

One recent study for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the government wildlife agency, estimated there are at least 7,000 collisions and crashes caused by deer and at least 65 injuries for motorists across Scotland a year, many more than in previous years.

Experts fear there is a much greater risk of driver fatalities and multiple-vehicle crashes after the study found that major roads and motorways in central and lowland Scotland, including the M9 near Stirling, the M90 near Dunfermline, the M8, the A1 north of Berwick, roads around Glasgow and its satellite towns, and Aberdeen had become hotspots for deer collisions.

In many of these areas, millions of pounds are being spent creating new green spaces and woodlands, often on former industrial areas, which are perfect environments for deer.

Richard Cooke, a leading deer expert, and an organiser of a conference to launch a new lowland deer network in Scotland, said: “The greening of lowland Scotland is creating new habitats which are ideal for the expansion of roe deer territories, and roe deer numbers are known to be increasing fairly rapidly.”

Local councils and agencies that run parks and new forestry projects will be warned on Monday they will need to introduce deer management policies and action plans, including culling, in areas where deer have never previously been a problem.

New wildlife legislation introduced by the Scottish parliament puts a duty on all councils to have wildlife policies. Until now, only the Highlands have seen routine and well-organised deer culling, to control numbers.

Robbie Kernahan, a deer specialist with SNH, said: “We’re actively encouraging, indeed funding, a lot of the green network because of the benefits they bring to biodiversity and so forth, but it has to be done in way which is mindful of the needs of all species.”

Although no comprehensive monitoring has been carried out, it is believed there could be around 500,000 roe and sika deer across lowland and upland Scotland, in addition to about 300,000 red deer in the Highlands.

“There are areas, particularly cities and towns, where deer numbers are increasing and the impact for the public, for example road traffic accidents but also damage to gardens and contact with dogs and cats, is rising all the time,” Cooke said.

“Our feeling is that we need a co-ordinated approach and a good level of communication to anticipate problems before they arise rather than be caught on the backfoot when they do arise.”

Cooke said there were still strong sensitivities about culling among city-dwellers, despite the perception that Scots were comfortable with shooting because Scotland’s long history of deer stalking. “I think there will be quite a lot of sensitivity among the more vociferous people who care about these things in our urban areas. These arguments will have to be dealt with: the ‘Bambi’ syndrome is quite a strong one,” he said.

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