Article from Economist on the widening divide between differing highland estate management practices.
Sep 14th 2013 |From the print edition
PAUL LISTER is an unusual Scottish laird. His wardrobe contains no tartan and he doesn’t drink whisky. Nor does he hunt, shoot or fish. Instead he spends his time thinking about conservation. Mr Lister is not alone. A new breed of laird is buying up chunks of Scotland. Their views on deer are causing trouble with the traditional sporting estates.
Their estates are vast, even by Scottish standards. Mr Lister, heir to a furniture entrepreneur, is in charge of the 9,300-hectare Alladale estate. Anders Hoch Povlsen, a Danish fashion tycoon, has become the second-largest private landowner in Britain, with 60,000 hectares in the eastern highlands.
Both men yearn for Scotland’s environmental past. In the 17th century, the highlands held forests of pine, beech and rowan. But then the trees were felled to make way for sheep and grouse moors. Grazing deer have kept the ground bare. Nowadays saplings are gobbled up before they can grow into trees.
Scotland’s deer population is a perennial problem with two prongs. First, there are lots of them: over 300,000 in the highlands alone. Second, property rights are vague at best: no one owns the deer and they can roam where they wish. So numbers are controlled by Deer Management Groups, with the agreement of land owners, farmers and commercial forests.
That is a tricky task. Deer are a nuisance for Messrs Lister and Povlsen. But for others they are an important source of income. Scottish estates are expensive to run. Revenues can be boosted by selling expensive stalking weekends to wealthy tourists from south of the border. Last year the National Trust for Scotland, a charity, abandoned a cull of thousands of deer at their Mar Lodge estate, after protests from neighbours—including the queen’s estate—and businesses. If the deer dwindle, so may the sporting tourists.
That leaves a problem: sporting estates want to see around 12 deer per square kilometre, conservationists around four. But their free movement means individual estates cannot control numbers accurately. When deer are removed from an area, new ones flow like water into the space left behind. The result is too many for conservation, too few for sport.
Fencing offers a solution but it can confuse the deer and separate them from lower-lying ground, making life harder for them in winter. A spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association says this is an excuse used by those that favour culling. Others say fencing can be a good short-term compromise: once forests are established deer can be let back in.
Mr Lister say all these options are imperfect. In the early 18th century natural predators roamed the highlands. Wolves and lynx kept deer on the move, preventing them from grazing for too long in one place. He plans a fenced reserve where wolves could hunt freely. This will make his land teem with life again, he reckons: the trees will provide food for rodents and small birds, wolves will leave carrion for eagles and ravens. Getting his neighbours to agree will be hard, but Mr Lister predicts a wilder Scotland could attract as many new tourists as it loses to the cull.