THE public is being trained in how to stalk and shoot deer as part of a community scheme to protect vital Highland woodlands.

Wildlife agency NatureScot said the “groundbreaking” initiative, at its Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve (NNR), is the first of its kind in Scotland.

Once fully trained and qualified through the programme, local residents will be free to hunt deer across the 10,000-acre reserve.


It follows similar “community models” of deer management in other European countries, NatureScot said, but which have never been tried here before.

Participants and the wider community will also get access to the reserve’s deer larder to encourage them to eat more venison as “a healthy, sustainable product with zero food miles”.

It comes as overgrazing from rocketing deer populations in recent years has posed a major threat to defending and restoring Scotland’s native woods and rainforests.

The project will complement the mountain reserve’s deer cull - crucial for protecting and regenerating Creag Meagaidh’s native woodlands and other habitats.

The mountain, situated about 30 miles west of Fort William, boasts rare ancient birch and alder wood remnants on its lower slopes.

Rory Richardson, NatureScot’s Creag Meagaidh NNR manager, said: “We’re still at the early stages, but so far the pilot has been really successful and the feedback from participants has been very positive.

“There’s a real mix of experience, with some people who have all of the required deer stalking qualifications and skills and others who have never done it before.

“With the training and practice offered under the scheme, some members have progressed to stalking deer on their own.

“It’s all about developing skills as well as getting more community involvement in the reserve and how we manage it for nature.”

Bob Murdoch, a local resident taking part in the scheme, said: “I have enjoyed stalking since I was young, but opportunities tended to be limited as it is fairly expensive and often relies on knowing people willing to let you onto their land.

“Importantly, the community stalking is not about letting just anyone on to the hill with a firearm.

“A minimum standard of experience is required and group members are being helped to obtain the industry standard Deer Management Qualifications to ensure stalking is done safely and professionally.

“One of the big advantages of the scheme is being able to keep the venison.

“The scheme really is groundbreaking, and as a group we are extremely grateful to the staff of NatureScot, both at a management level and on the ground at Creag Meagaidh, who have gone out of their way to make the community stalking a success.”