Problems affecting the local community as a result of the growing deer population were presented in clear terms at a public meeting on South Uist last night (6th March 2017).
Uist Deer Management Group introduced its draft Deer Management Plan for the islands, which is currently out for public consultation, at Talla an Iochdair yesterday evening.
Feedback on the plan was invited from local residents.
Several individuals who have suffered from Lyme Disease spoke about the condition and the sometimes harrowing effect it has had on their lives.
Deer host and disperse ticks as they travel and are held responsible by some for the abnormally high incidence of diagnosed Lyme Disease on Uist.
Numerous people spoke about the danger deer represent on roads, with it suggested that many collisions are likely unrecorded.
Crofters also highlighted the number of deer now marauding on to croft land. It is noted within the draft Deer Management Plan that efforts to minimise the impact deer are having on crofters – both on South Uist and North Uist – have largely been considered ineffective.
Uist Deer Management Group was formed eighteen months ago. Its membership includes local landowners Stòras Uibhist and North Uist Estate.
Last year, the group appointed Linzi Seivwright to produce a Deer Management Plan for the islands. Linzi is founder of Caorann Ecological Services, a leading consultancy offering extensive expertise in deer management planning.
Introducing the draft plan at the public meeting yesterday evening, Linzi Seivwright said: “Don’t see this as an end point, it’s really just the start of deer management on Uist.
“Deer management is an ongoing, evolving process.”
Through various actions, the plan sets out how the estates can potentially reduce the size of the respective herds while maintaining numbers conducive to the operation of sporting and meat processing enterprises.
Linzi went on to explain the function of deer management groups established across Scotland. Each group considers how best to meet the objectives of its members while at the same time managing deer sustainably.
More than 1000 deer were counted at the last foot count on North Uist during April last year. Just 517 deer were found in a similar count conducted in 1991.
Less historic data is available for South Uist Estate, but a helicopter count conducted in 2015 found an estimated 778 deer on South Uist and Benbecula. Red deer were first introduced to South Uist in 1975, when a small number was transferred over from Rum.
With numbers evidently on the rise on both estates, deer have become a major problem, entering gardens and grazing on croft land.
Deer are furthermore considered a significant hazard on roads and are believed by some to be responsible for the high incidence of diagnosed Lyme Disease on Uist.
Linzi explained that deer management is a balancing act between protecting an iconic species with apparently considerable economic value, with the negative impacts on traffic, agriculture and possibly public health.
However, the economic value of sporting enterprises was brought into question at the meeting, with it suggested that a stag shot in season could just be worth between £450 and £1000. However, it was said that other added on benefits, including venison sales and accommodation, would have to be factored in order to calculate the economic value of sporting businesses.
Meanwhile, Uist Deer Management Group has formed a subgroup focussed on Lyme Disease, which has recommended the exclusion of all deer by whatever means from areas of human settlement. It remains unclear how this objective will be achieved.
NHS Western Isles is hosting two events this month on South Uist to inform on ticks and Lyme Disease. See here for more information: http://www.ampaipear.org.uk/coming-ticks-lyme-disease-awareness-sessions/
Feedback gathered at the public meeting is to be fed into the draft Deer Management Plan. Further comments can be emailed to Uist Deer Management Group chairman Uisdean Robertson (firstname.lastname@example.org) or secretary Philip Harding (email@example.com) until the consultation closes on 12th March 2017.