Guidance - Control of wild deer in Scotland - Authorisations Guidance for practitioners
Purpose of this document
This document outlines the legal framework surrounding the control of wild deer in Scotland including the role of Authorisations in permitting activities that would otherwise be an offence.
It is aimed as an aid to practitioners to show
- the different types of authorisation available
- who can work under authorisations and how to apply for them
- the information we require to process applications
- how we assess applications for Authorisations
- the responsibilities of Authorisation holders
The Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 (as amended) sets out the law for protecting and regulating wild deer in Scotland. It creates a number of offences in relation to killing or taking deer at certain times of year, at certain times of day or by certain methods.
NatureScot may authorise individuals – thereby giving them legal permission – to shoot deer in circumstances where they would not normally have the right to do so. The two main examples of this are culling deer during the close season (see Table 1 below) and culling deer at night. This document provides guidance on authorisations for these activities*.
*Note that the 1996 Act also includes provisions for authorisations to be issued for driving deer with vehicles for deer management purposes or the taking of deer during close seasons for scientific purposes. Anyone wanting to discuss such instances should contact the licensing team to discuss.
The close seasons for wild deer in Scotland are provided in Table 1 below. Outside of these dates you do need an authorisation to shoot deer, see types of authorisations below for your circumstances. If you are proposing to shoot at night you need an authorisation, shooting at night is taken as being from one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise.
Changes to the Deer (Close Season) (Scotland) Order were passed by the Scottish Parliament on 27 September 2023. The change to the Close Season Order removed the close season for all species of male deer in Scotland effective from 21 October 2023.
Red and sika deer
16th February to 20th October
1st April to 20th October
16th February to 20th October
Authorisations: Basic Principles
Authorisations can only be granted to shoot deer at night or out of season for certain purposes and where there is a need, to test that there no other reasonable means to address that problem.
In order to grant an authorisation control must be necessary for one of the following purposes;
- to prevent damage to agricultural land
- to prevent damage to woodland
- to prevent damage to the natural heritage
- in the interests of public safety; and
No Other Reasonable Means
This means that we have to be satisfied that there are no other means (other than use of authorisation) that could reasonably be adopted to address the problem(s) being experienced.
How we assess these criteria is discussed in more detail later in this document.
Types of Authorisation
There are two main types of authorisation; the General Authorisation and individual (sometimes referred to as specific) authorisations.
The General Authorisation does not need to be applied for but anyone using it must ensure that they meet the criteria for which it can be used and that they can comply with its terms and conditions.
Individual Authorisations are specific to particular situations. They are subject to an application being made to NatureScot. If granted they are issued to an individual to permit control over specified areas of land subject to certain conditions.
What type of authorisation do I need?
The type of authorisation required will depend on the issue that needs to be addressed and the means by which you are proposing to address it.
Night shooting authorisations
A Night Shooting Authorisation is required for anyone proposing to shoot deer between one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise regardless of the time of year or target species. If the proposal involves shooting deer at night and out of season they would also need to be covered by an out-of-season authorisation (see below).
Changes to the Deer (Close Season) (Scotland) Order and the Deer (Firearms etc) (Scotland) Order were passed by the Scottish Parliament on 27 September 2023. The change to the Firearms Order came into effect on 3 November 2023 and allows the use of any ‘sight of any type including light-intensifying, heat-sensitive or other special sighting device for night shooting’. Note that these sights can also be used in daytime and includes the use of thermal imaging, night vision and digital sights. You will still need to apply for an Authorisation 18(2) to shoot deer at night.
An Out-of-season authorisation is required for anyone proposing to shoot female deer outside of the close season for that species (see Table 1). The type of authorisation required will be dependent on the age of the deer proposed to be controlled as well as the specific issue that an authorisation is sought for.
The General Authorisation is required to shoot deer out-of-season during the day to prevent damage to improved agricultural land or enclosed woodland. It does not allow killing of female deer over 1 year old between 1st April and 31st August. You do not need to apply for the General Authorisation, just to ensure that you can and do comply with its terms and conditions.
An Out of Season Authorisation is required to shoot deer out-of-season during the day to prevent damage to unenclosed* woodland, the natural heritage or in the interests of public safety. It does not generally allow killing of female deer over 1 year old between 1st April and 31st August. This is a type of individual authorisation.
An Out of Season (Female) Authorisation is required to shoot female deer over 1 year old between 1st April and 31st August. It can only be granted to prevent damage to agricultural land, woodland, natural heritage interests or in the interests of public safety. This is a type of individual authorisation.
*A definition of unenclosed land is provided in Annex 1
Who can apply for an authorisation?
Applicants should be the person experiencing the problem for which an authorisation is sought. This may be the owner, occupier or an agent or other person authorised to apply on behalf of the owner or occupier of the land in question.
The General Authorisation permits the occupier suffering damage, or certain individuals authorised by them, to carry out the activities permitted by it.
Who can carry out control under an authorisation?
Under the terms of the General Authorisation the owner/occupier, an employee(s) or someone who lives on that land, or anyone registered as fit and competent.
Applicants for authorisations can list other individuals to carry out control on their behalf. In most cases those individuals have to be registered with NatureScot as Fit and Competent. The only exceptions, i.e. where controllers do not have to be registered as Fit and Competent are;
For the General Authorisation for the culling on agricultural land or enclosed woodland and for specific Out of Season (Female) Authorisations controllers, do not need to be registered as fit and competent if they are an owner/occupier, an employee or someone who lives on that land.
How to apply for authorisations
Area of Land Authorised
The application must be clear in the area of land over which the authorisation is being applied for. This information is most usefully provided in map form with the property boundary and proposed control areas outlined.
How we assess applications
As discussed above – there are two main questions that we need to answer before an authorisation can be granted; is there a valid problem requiring an authorisation and (other than 5(6a)) that is there no other reasonable means by which the problem can be addressed?
It is the responsibility of the applicant to provide the evidence to answer both of these questions. This may require to be verified during a site visit by NatureScot staff.
Assessing Purpose: Is there a valid problem?
The applicant is expected to provide the following information to demonstrate the need for an authorisation(s);
- The objectives for the site in question
- What they consider to constitute damage to these interests
- Why they consider that deer are responsible for that damage
Where an application is for public safety we would expect applicants to describe the public safety risk as well as how culling under an authorisation would address that risk.
NatureScot staff or those from partner organisation may carry out site visits for some applications. More details on how and when we carry out site visits is provided below.
Assessing no other reasonable means
Authorisations are issued as an exception, i.e. they should only be granted if there is no other reasonable means that could resolve the problem being experienced.
The alternatives that should be considered include;
- control in daylight
- control in season
- control under the General Authorisation
- fencing (temporary or permanent)
There are a number of factors that need to be considered in the assessment of no other reasonable means. This includes the level of effort to address the problem as well as consideration of the interests of neighbouring landowners and, where necessary, the appropriate collaboration in this respect.
In assessing what is reasonable, we expect that applicants can demonstrate that they have put reasonable effort toward resolving the problem(s) in hand with one or more of these alternatives.
There are many ‘types’ of controller and control effort. This varies from full-time employees who are expected to control deer as part of their job to leaseholders and contractors who may be expected to limit damage to those providing informal assistance on an ad hoc basis.
NatureScot will not make judgement on the best “type” of controller, however where it is clear that it has been within the gift of the applicant to have used other reasonable means and no or minimal effort has been spent on these, which may lessen or negate the need for out of season or night shooting Authorisations, then the NatureScot officer will advise the applicant that this must be addressed.
As every situation is invariably different, NatureScot will require the effort to be quantified by the applicant and make a judgement on a case-by-case basis as to what constitutes reasonable effort in relation to an application.
The Code of Practice for Deer Managers, Deer Management Planning and Collaboration
The Code of Practice for Deer Managers sets out how land managers can deliver sustainable deer management. It sets out their responsibilities and helps them identify what they must do, should do and could do to manage deer sustainably. The Code stresses the importance of managing deer collaboratively, of talking to neighbours and of planning together.
Deer Management Plans
Deer Management Plans help set out land managers objectives and how deer will be managed to meet these. This includes preventing damage. This should also include consideration of neighbours interest and collaborative approaches to Deer Management. Plans are therefore extremely useful in being able to demonstrate to what extent other reasonable means have been considered to address problems.
When considering authorisation applications we will take into account the following;
- If the applicant for an authorisation is a signatory to a Plan, they should be able to show how they have kept to the management measures agreed within it. This will include how well any longer-term solutions identified in the plan have been taken forward.
- If cull targets have been collaboratively agreed through the plan and where it is recognised and acknowledged locally that out of season control has potential collective benefits.
- Authorising out of season culls within the context of agreed overall cull targets is likely to better support collaborative and sustainable approaches to management. This is particularly relevant in the context of preventing damage from Red Deer stags where targeted culling out of season or at night is likely to be more effective than taking culls over wider ranges in season to prevent damage occurring.
- Recognising that most collaborative DMPs have a timeframe of 5-10 years, NatureScot will take into account any material change such as changes of ownership or management objectives when assessing the likely relevance of previously agreed management prescriptions.
Situations where there is no Deer Management Plan
As described above the role of deer management planning should negate any onerous requirements for applicants to enter into conversations with neighbours as part of the application process. This however only works where local deer management fora are developed to deal with such issues and in many cases Authorisation applications may stimulate discussion for the first time.
Despite this, and in accordance with the Deer Code, we expect the applicant in such situations to attempt to collaborate or deal with the issue with neighbours. As a minimum applicants should contact their nearest neighbours who might be affected by any Authorisation before applying and in order to look for collaborative solutions. Evidence of such discussions should accompany any application.
Collaborative solutions may be discussed at local deer management group level or if this is not possible then NatureScot WMOs may be able to assist.
Site visits may sometimes be carried out to examine and discuss evidence to help in the assessment of an application. This might include evidence of damage, the occupier’s objectives for the site, monitoring of impacts or the evidence that deer are responsible. In addition the visit may allow for more detailed discussion or clarification of other reasonable means, effort, collaboration or details of the Deer Management Plan.
Site visits may be undertaken by NatureScot staff or other government agency staff on our behalf. The decision on whether or not to undertake a site visit will be made on a risk-based approach and will take into account factors including;
- The existence or otherwise of a DMP
- The level of collaboration and alignment with the Deer Code
- Animal welfare issues
- Public safety concerns
- Previous experience of controller
- Levels of conflict between adjacent land-uses
- Previous authorisation
For 5(6) (a) (Female) Authorisations site visits will be carried out by a member of NatureScot staff for every new application. In such cases particular attention will be paid to exploring the exceptional circumstances required in order to proceed with the application as well as how the applicant/controller intends to limit the potential risk to animal welfare. Examples of such exceptional circumstances might include a small group of roe deer trapped inside a fenced enclosure causing damage to a high value crop, or situations where deer are present on an airfield and proving a threat to safety.
How we issue authorisations
Wherever possible we will issue authorisations by email but hard copies are available on request
Authorisations will specify;
- Who is permitted to carry out control
- When control is permitted
- Where control is permitted
- The period of time that control is permitted
- Any other conditions that must be adhered to
Failure to comply with the terms of an authorisation could result in an offence being committed and/or the removal of the authorisation so it is essential to ensure that all those involved read and understand its requirements.
How long will an authorisation last?
Authorisations may vary in length depending on the nature and extent of the impacts and damage being managed, short term impacts may only require authorisations for one or two weeks.
These issues may be caused by-
- Where deer seek shelter or forage in areas they are not normally resident.
- Within enclosed areas.
- Where a public safety issue is caused.
Where authorisations are required to deal with a long term issue NatureScot may take the view that the Authorised period may be up to 3 years. These may be caused by -
- Deer resident across a property with multiple objectives
- Deer moving between properties with similar land use objectives
- Deer causing public safety risks e.g. within a designated airport area
This decision would be based on their being evidence including that-
- Damage is occurring or likely to occur for the period Authorised
- Effort in season and during the day has taken place and will continue to take place for the period Authorised.
- There is a site wide DMP and a local collaborative DMP
- The Deer Code is clearly being applied and that there is a forum for this to continue
- There have been repeat applications for the site with successful delivery of previous authorisations including returns.
- There have been repeat applications for the site where the same F&C controllers have been used successfully.
During the period Authorised the applicant would be expected to provide, on an annual basis, information on-
- Any evidence of damage occurring including monitoring results
- Number of deer culled under Authorisation
- Effort made in season and during the day
- Continued collaborative communication
This information should be provided on request on by emailing those details along with Authorisation number to [email protected]. Failure to do so would be a breach of the authorisation conditions.
Responsibilities of authorised persons
Authorisations are legal documents allowing people to carry out activities that would otherwise constitute an offence. Failure to comply by the terms and conditions of an authorisation may constitute an offence.
The authorisation holder has the following responsibilities;
- To ensure that all controllers understand the terms and conditions of the authorisation
- To submit a return within seven days of the end of the authorisation detailing what has been undertaken.
Controllers operating under an authorisation have the following responsibilities;
- To adhere to the terms and conditions of the authorisation
- To ensure that they follow best practice
- To ensure that they comply with all other firearms and health and safety requirements.
When might we refuse or amend an authorisation?
There are a number of reasons for Authorisations being refused or where an authorisation may need to have additional conditions placed upon it. These include;
Discretion to refuse if:
Other reasonable means and effort
Owner / occupiers definition of damage
Authorisation unlikely to prevent damage
Failure to deliver on requirements of the Deer Code
NatureScot may choose to add additional conditions to an Authorisation in order to deal with these issues. This might include limiting the number of deer that can be controlled, limiting the period of control or the geographical area. In the event of an Authorisation being refused or additional conditions being added, NatureScot will always contact the applicant by letter fully explaining the reasons for the decision.
NatureScot’s Balancing Duties & Authorisations
In delivering any of our work, including deer authorisations, NatureScot is required by statute to take account of a range of other interests when discharging its remit. These duties are referred to as ‘balancing duties’ and reflect the Government’s aim of achieving an integrated approach in which particular objectives are not pursued without reference to other interests.
These balancing duties require us to be aware of and take account of a range of other interests. This is important in ensuring that natural heritage aims are fulfilled in a way compatible with society’s wider needs.
NatureScot will seek to understand the needs of others through liaison, consultation, and working in co-operation with relevant interests as appropriate.
NatureScot Balancing Duties are available
It is within this policy framework that NatureScot may take additional decisions on the suitability of certain Authorisations applications. NatureScot staff will use the recognised approach to applying its balancing duties.
In undertaking the delivery of this this assessment:
- NatureScot may seek to assess the applications themselves or look at their overall potential impact at a deer range scale.
- NatureScot may ask neighbours, communities, interest groups and other stakeholders to provide evidence of any potential impact of the Authorisation in question over that local deer range.
- NatureScot may take into account any locally agreed collaborative deer management plan or assess the impacts using against the Public Interest Criteria using the NatureScot DMG audit format.
- NatureScot will also take account of the Code of Practice on Deer Management in exercising its powers to grant authorisations.
- Any decision taken on an application regarding NatureScot balancing duties will be taken with the evidence available to NatureScot at the time, should additional evidence be presented which is relevant NatureScot may choose to revise the Authorisation outcome.
It is rare that Authorisations are refused, or additional conditions applied on the basis of NatureScot’s Balancing duties, but this may happen. Where NatureScot has done this in pursuance of its balancing duties we will write to those affected to clearly articulate the reasoning behind the decision as per the agreed NatureScot approach.
In the event of an applicant being unhappy with the handling of any application or authorisation a member of staff will investigate further informing NatureScot customer relations officer of the complaint in line with the NatureScot complaints procedure.
Annex 1 - Definition of Enclosed Land
The Act defines enclosed land as 'land enclosed by a stock proof fence or other barrier' - in NatureScot’s view the barrier may be constructed of man-made material or a natural feature which prevents the free movement of stock between, on to or out of a particular piece of land.
In order to be stock proof any fence must be in a state of repair which would reasonably be construed as preventing movement of stock on or off a particular piece of land. A natural barrier would have to provide a similar function and may include features such as rivers, lochs, islands or peninsulas where these would prevent stock movement.
Strategic fencing may fulfil the function of making an area enclosed where this does not include other landownership interests.
It is up to the land manager and controller to satisfy themselves that any area is enclosed. The risk of not acting under appropriate legal authority lies with them.
It may be helpful to consider the following questions:
- Is the site enclosed by a stock proof barrier?
Natural barriers would have to perform the same role as a stock proof barrier in that they prevent free movement of livestock (cows, sheep etc.). In most cases fencing on three sides and into a loch would reasonably be construed as having the intention to restrict livestock access to a site.
- Is the enclosed area within the one ownership unit?
The barrier should only include one ownership area. Where multiple ownerships are enclosed within a larger or strategic fence (such as some larger forestry complexes) then the site would not be deemed to be enclosed.
If tests a and b above are met then are the land use objectives within the whole enclosed area consistent with the prevention of damage to the woodland interest?
Strategic fencing is a legitimate means of barrier provided test a and b are met. If there are multiple objectives within an enclosed area then these need to be consistent with the prevention of damage to the woodland needing protected.
Strategic fencing of large woodland blocks often incorporate moorland which would be termed a natural heritage interest. Management over these areas is in most cases consistent with what is required for protecting the woodland. If stock are enclosed within the wider area (e.g. for tick management) for any period and could gain access to the woodland then this would not be consistent with the management objective of protecting the woodland.
For Annex 2 and 3 please go to the PDF document download available next.
Guidance - Control of wild deer in Scotland - Authorisations Guidance for practitioners - This PDF is not fully accessible
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