As part of its management of Scotland's National Forest Estate, Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) is responsible for protecting the forest environment.

This includes safeguarding planting sites, forest habitats and vulnerable standing crops from bark-stripping or browsing damage by deer.

FCS protects the forest from excessive browsing pressure by either fencing areas to exclude deer or by culling deer to maintain a sustainable population which is in balance with the forest environment, or a combination of both.

On occasion numbers of deer may move from neighbouring land onto the National Forest Estate and local managers need to consider how best to manage the situation.

Red deer incursions

During the winter of 2009/10 there were two specific instances of incursions by large numbers of Red deer on to the National Forest Estate. Prolonged and severe winter conditions had forced the deer to seek shelter and food in FCS forests at Naver and Achnacarry.

As a result of increased browsing damage to forest restock sites, plus the poor condition of the deer themselves, the decision was taken by FCS staff that it was necessary to cull the deer.

Although there had been communication and discussion with neighbouring estates and stalkers, the culling of the deer caused a degree of unhappiness within the deer sector and resulted in adverse press for FCS during 2010.

Improving communication

It was felt by both FCS and the Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG) that the level and degree of communication between FCS and neighbouring estates could be improved by both parties in order to facilitate positive and collaborative working (communication being very much a two-way process).

It was therefore agreed between FCS and ADMG to develop a draft protocol to provide a consistent approach and aid to good communication between FCS and neighbours when dealing with emergency situations ie incursions of significant numbers of deer on to the NFE. This would allow FCS to take an informed view when it made its decisions on how to manage any future incursion.

This resulted in the drafting of the Emergency Situation Protocol which was then agreed and disseminated by FCS and ADMG. At date of publication (July 2011) the protocol had yet to be tested in earnest via an actual winter incursion incident.