Government changes could waste national venison resource

One of Scotland’s foremost voices on deer believes the country is at grave risk of wasting a ‘national asset’ with Government changes threatening venison production.

Peter Fraser, a professional Head stalker for over 40 years and author of a paper on the economic impact of red deer, was speaking as he received a major conservation award at Moy Country Fair near Inverness on Friday.

He believes that the recent Scottish Government decision to allow male deer to be killed all year round is a serious misjudgement which could damage the domestic venison sector.


Lack of consultation


Mr Fraser (76), who is Vice Chairman of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, feels the abolition of the closed season for males has been poorly thought through, without consultation with those most impacted.

He fears the move will push the poorest quality venison into a stuttering market, setting back efforts of recent years to champion Scottish wild venison as a premium product.

It also comes at a time when Scottish Government wants up to 50 000 more deer killed per year to meet biodiversity targets, with no published central plan for maximising the final food product.

This, he believes, could become an unworkable combination, with farms and estates already receiving very low prices for the carcasses produced for game dealers.

Peter Fraser with his award, presented at Moy Country Fair
Peter Fraser with the Ronnie Rose award, presented at Moy Country Fair

“I never thought I would ever see things go this way,” he said as he collected the Ronnie Rose award for Conservation and Education for his extensive work on deer over the decades.

“As well as harrying male deer all year round, by doing away with the season, you are producing Stags of the poorest quality. Where is the market for that? What happened to quality Scottish venison? 

“Throughout my lifetime, respect has been lost for deer and it has come from the very top.

“This is another example. We used to get £1 per lb for venison around 40 years ago.

“Today, the price you get for venison is far, far lower by comparison. In that time, estates have also had to invest in larders of sufficient quality.

“Scottish Government is going to have to go back to these same people and ask them to kill more deer. How will that work? Kill more, get less; it just doesn’t make any sense.”


No foresight or support


Throughout the game sector there is a feeling that Scottish Government has persistently placed demands for more deer to be killed without support being given to create markets for wild venison, which is one of the leanest, sustainable, proteins available. 

Despite recent gains in the growth of UK venison sales, there are signs this is flagging as the cost-of-living crisis bites and families seek cheaper food.

Prior to the recent legislative change, which did away with the closed season for male deer, males could be only be shot outside of the season under authorisation from Government licensing  body, NatureScot.

Now males can be killed through the year. For Stags, previously shot between July 1st to October 20th, this means they will be shot over the winter when at their poorest condition due to the rutting season and, often, poor weather within their range.

“I am opposed to this and the way it has been done,” added Mr Fraser, whose sentiments were echoed by Alex Hogg, Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association.

“The Scottish Government did not consult properly on these changes. If they had, they would have understood the consequences far better.”

Peter Fraser's comments on winning the 2023 Ronnie Rose award:


“It is an absolute honour to receive this and I owe a lot to the late Ronnie Rose, himself, who opened my eyes when it came to woodland deer. My experience was all open hill so what he could teach me was invaluable. 

“We used to go to a lot of meetings together and there were few who could stand up to him and argue with him because of the knowledge he had.

"When preparing for meetings he would say: you give them the first barrel and I’ll finish them off with the second!

"What he knew was genuine and it made practical sense. That was borne out with what he achieved in the forest at Eskdalemuir, which was unbelievable, particularly the biodiversity. I don’t believe it has been repeated since. 

“I also learned so much from 2 or 3 of the senior colleagues I worked with at Invercauld and I hope they are looking down smiling today.”

SGA Chairman Alex Hogg on Peter receiving the award:


“Peter is such a stalwart. His knowledge is huge and when he speaks, people listen. He has a great deal of respect. Ronnie Rose would be so proud at him receiving this award.

“Without doubt he is one of the foremost authorities on deer in Scotland and has worked tirelessly on their behalf. However, he is like all of us, he still loves a joke and a good old fashioned wind-up.

“That is why so many people relate to him."

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