back to article Oh deer! Scotland needs some tech smarts to help monitor its rampant herbivore populations

Herbivores may not be the first things that spring to mind when devising the latest application of the technology world's overflowing toolbox, but there it is. Scottish Natural Heritage is on the hunt for a system to measure and thereby better control the country's dangerously expanding population of vegetarians. No, not the …

  1. Totally not a Cylon

    Reintroduce Wolves & Bears

    What could possibly go wrong?

    And if they happen to munch on the 'other type of herbivore' well, it's probably going to improve the IQ of the population.....

    1. S4qFBxkFFg

      Re: Reintroduce Wolves & Bears

      As they say, "With no natural predators left, deer numbers have increased substantially in Scotland over the past 60 years."

      However, lynx would probably be an easier sell:

      Downloading display drivers when the GUI won't work, and keeping the deer in check - busy animals.

    2. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Re: Reintroduce Wolves & Bears

      Some had the brilliant idea to reintroduce Bears in the Pyrenees, with the support of the usual tree huggers living at least 100 km away. Bears are so cute, aren't they?

      Now shepherds and breeders have to face attacks on their herds, over 1,100 sheep were killed directly or indirectly by bears last year in Ariège only - sheep tend to run when a bear comes, even when there's a cliff in front of them.

      Yesterday a local mayor published a decree forbidding hikes after an attack of four bears on a herd for several hours. Some day there will be a human casualty, but the tree huggers will say it was the human's fault. Locals have just to deal with the consequences of a decision imposed on them.

      1. Totally not a Cylon

        Re: Reintroduce Wolves & Bears

        Shepherds used to stay with their flock and have large dogs (look up Pyrenean Mountain Dog) to protect the flocks from bears, wolves & humans........

        It's only the modern practice of letting the sheep run wild which leads to large predation....

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Reintroduce Wolves & Bears

          And are you going to pay the wages of these extra shepherds that are now required? Or guarantee to buy the farmers lamb now at double the price?

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: Reintroduce Wolves & Bears

        Four bears? I'm sorry, but I have to call bullshit on that. Bears are the single most asocial predator on the planet. They are solitary hunters, and don't work in packs.

        I could believe a couple of youngsters who have recently been kicked out of the den by their mum, but these weren't youngsters (as evidenced by the fact that they supposedly couldn't be scared away by simply yelling at them). Four adult bears working in concert? That just plain doesn't happen.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Reintroduce Wolves & Bears

      "if they happen to munch on the 'other type of herbivore'"

      But could they be relied on to tell the difference between herbivores and omnivores?

    4. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Reintroduce Wolves & Bears

      As long as they cull the vegan herds as well .

  2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Import Wolves

    Get some natural predators. Yea, you will have some sheep herders whine, but as we know from reintroduction of wolves in the US where we compensate anyone whose livestock is killed by a wolf, even after wolves reach saturation, more livestock still die from snow drifts than wolf predation.

    1. LucreLout

      Re: Import Wolves

      Magical animals that can solve most of life's problems if only people were willing to give them a fair chance.

      Travelers parking caravans in your field and won't leave? Wolves.

      Demonstrators won't disperse? Wolves.

      It's 4am on a Friday morning and you neighbours kids party is still pumping out crap music at full blast? Wolves.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Import Wolves

        You spelt "police" wrong.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Import Wolves

      >more livestock still die from snow drifts than wolf predation.

      Yes and where there are wolf compensation scheme suddenly dog attacks drop to zero and everything is put down to wolves. Hmmmmmm.

    3. jake Silver badge

      Re: Import Wolves

      "Get some natural predators."

      No need to procure them. Scotland already has a population of around five and a half million natural predators. The species is Homo sapiens.

  3. Cuddles

    Why "technology"

    "How can we use technology to estimate herbivore populations and their impacts across Scotland in a greener and more cost-effective way?"

    Surely the question should be "How can we estimate herbivore populations and their impacts across Scotland in a greener and more cost-effective way?"? If the answer happens to involve whatever they're currently defining as "technology"*, then fine. If not, why is that a problem? As long as it's better, cheaper and greener, surely that's all that matters?

    * I mean, a pointy rock was considered the height of technology at one time, so involving technology of some sort is a pretty low bar. Flying around in helicopters sounds fairly technological to me.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Why "technology"

      It's bound to involve drones. All the cool kids are doing them these days.

      How much does high grade satellite imagery cost these days and is it good enough for the job?

      No, I don't mean they should launch their own. There are plenty of commercial options already up there.

  4. Chris G

    If technology is the route they want, perhaps solar powered cellular game cameras could help on a lot of places. Obviously some connectivity is required but hunters and others use them a lot in the States.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Compunding issues

      > solar powered cellular game cameras

      The "introduce a predator" kneejerk is fraught with unforeseen issues, but an attractive one. But the problem is, of course, much more layered and complex than simply that there are no more apex predators in Scotland. To give an idea of where the problem lies, it is worth noting that there is generally a higher clustering of deer near railway lines than elsewhere. Why? Because the railways were largely built to bring Sir Spotty Erbert and his Victorian brethren to their estates where they wanted ot prove their manhood by shooting a deer, an animal as frightening ads the average goat. To this day there is a cachet regarding a "magnificent set of antlers" as though an antler will stop a high powered rifle bullet fired via telescopic sights at extreme range.

      But the same landowning class who caused the problem in the first place largely want their "sport" to continue, usually at he expense of virtually every other bit of wildlife on their patches. Landowners are supposed to formulate plans among themselves to keep deer numbers at levels at which they won't decimate the place. The result is, in our area, there are several landowners, all with mutually incompatible agenda. One wants hordes of deer he and his chums can easily shoot from the back of an Argo, another wants to re-tree their estate so wants no deer at all, another is reasonable in allowing some high-lucrative stalking but at low levels of deer density while another is pretty much bankrupt and can't afford the Rambos ^h^h^h who make their living culling deer. SO near ius, deer levels are approaching 70 per square kilometre. Some area look like deer farms in the evenings. And driving at dusk is extremely risky

      It's an historical mess. And SNH are supposed to be arbitrators and enforcers, while having no teeth at all. I can't blame them for wanting some better stats than the occasional helicopter count.

      --> Tux, because at the moment, there's no problem with our penguin population.

      1. FatGerman Silver badge

        Re: Compunding issues

        Once again, the legacy of the Victorian aristocracy and their world-fuckering arrogance creates problem we have to solve today. The answer therefore, is to introduce more apex predators, but to introduce them inside the homes of the landowners.

    2. Control Phreak

      It's Scotland so solar power is a bit of a non-starter.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Maybe a whole new midge-powered technology is needed.

  5. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Dung Beetles!

    Can we count dung beetles instead and correlate from that population?

    -->Deer Stalker

  6. Danny 2

    1992~ish, I was driving two Aussies around the Highlands and I pointed out two deer coming over the brow of a hill.

    "You don't often see two deer together."

    Then a dozen deer came over the hill, and I said, "You are lucky, I've never seen so many deer in the wild."

    Then a few thousand deer came over the hill, and I said I would stop talking.

    Deer numbers are artificially inflated for blood sports. They spread Lyme disease and devastate forests. Bamby my furry arse.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "two deer coming over the brow of a hill."

      Isn't that a joke? (Or is that elephants ... ?)

    2. W.S.Gosset

      "upsidedown, miss Jane" (to quote the Aussie Mr Squiggle.

      Deer numbers naturally explode. Similar boom&bust DNA-level strategy as kangaroos.

      They've been kept in check by what you call "blood sports".

      1. W.S.Gosset

        Top Tip for Brits:

        Because of the gamekeepers still keeping them under control in the south, you can hit up the country farmers markets and buy mass quantities of their overflowing venison for less than the price of Tesco's 3-star mince.

        Also, pheasant for £2 a pop. Because of their nutrition density, each tiny bird will feed you well for 3 days. That's 70p a meal.

        Look for the wiry types in battered heavy warm flat-caps standing behind quotidian polystyrene boxes. Sometimes a gun in the cab of the white van beside them. Vans typically full of meat -- they'll look favorably on any offer to buy bulk, they have trouble getting rid of it all.

  7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    This used to be the sort of problem they'd set up a grant for a PhD student to work on.

  8. Allan George Dyer

    Easy - count the legs and divide by four.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      What about deer with no legs? You’re being ableist! They’re still deer...

      Sorry, but I couldn’t stop myself.

  9. W.S.Gosset


    Apparently there were still major predators in Scotland until they magically switched off in 1960, 60yrs ago.

    I call bullshit.

    Something (s) else is going on/changed around then.

  10. Nifty Silver badge

    Or you could try painting their antlers with reflective paint as in Finland.

    At least fewer motorists will run into them that way.

    1. Allan George Dyer

      Deer shed their antlers annually... so each year you'll need to round up all the wild deer and paint the new antlers. Is this research sponsored by the Deer-Herding and Paint Manufacturer Association?

      Alternatively, use gene editing to insert bio-luminescence genes*, and the antlers will glow by themselves.

      *Like any gene-edited product, the expression control may vary from one production run to the next. The colour of the antler will appear different in various lighting conditions.

  11. Ken 16 Silver badge

    Deer stalking by drone?

    That sounds much more fun than crawling around the undergrowth. We just need to develop a missile that won't make too much mess of the meat, oh and a recovery drone.

  12. jake Silver badge

    Thinking about this realistically ...

    You have three numbers to worry about. Either not enough deer, or the right amount of deer, or too many deer. Figuring this out isn't exactly rocket surgery, just observe the effect that the population being studied has on the surrounding environment. Note that local "hot spots" are inevitable, and may need individual attention.

    For the first two numbers, management is easy: Keep a hands-off approach and simply monitor the situation, unless numbers are ridiculously low, in which case a captive breeding program & subsequent release back into the wild might be in order, after ensuring an adequate food supply for the returnees.

    For the last, it's steaks & sausages all 'round until the numbers fall to whatever arbitrary number The Authorities deem "normal". After which, a routine harvest of the stock should be considered a normal part of herd management.

    Sadly, however. I'm sure the PTB want exact numbers with day-to-day resolution. The only way to do this is to catch and radio-tag every single deer on the island, and do it again at the end of each and every breeding cycle to tag the newborns. Until you do that, it's just an estimate, and we can't have that now can we?

    At what point does wildlife become domestic?

    1. USER100

      Re: Thinking about this realistically ...

      Of course you're right, there's no harm in making sausages out of the excess.

      However... the lack of predators has definitely contributed to this problem. Our culture is has become terrified of anything it can't control. People killed the wolves, bears, wildcats... The forests should include those creatures. Balance would be restored and there'd be no talk of rampant herbivores.

      On some primeval level, don't we need the forests to have danger in them?

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Thinking about this realistically ...

        You have no lack of predators. What you have is a lack of motivated and properly equipped predators. The government has seen to that after decades of propaganda.

        1. john 103

          Re: Thinking about this realistically ...

          A few points

          Hunters usually shoot Trophy Stags which has very little impact on the population carrying capacity as the population is governed by number of Hinds.

          Not only do we want to reduce deer numbers but we also want to change deer behaviour. When man is the main predator - deer tend to hide in thick undergrowth. This increases tick numbers (and Lyme disease) and also has a far worse impact on Tree growth. When deer are naturally predated they avoid heavy cover and stay away from trees as they need to be able to see approaching predators.

          Natural predation creates a much healthier prey population - the sickest and weakest are first to go - wolves in particular are superb at judging the health of an animal and always prey on the weakest. When the population pressures are lowered there is less malnutrition and disease.

          Predators leave carcasses for other carrion eating animals - eg Golden Eagles and there are very few people would argue that there are enough eagles.

          Large predators control the numbers of smaller predators (eg foxes)- this has a massive benefit for a host of other species - eg ground nesting birds and small mammals which in turn creates more ecological niches for other species.

  13. x 7

    The answer is..............

    Predator (drone) + thermal imaging + Hellfire missiles

    Reduce the deer population, give the RAF target practice, and rent out killing sessions to armchair bloodsports enthusiasts. Kill things by remote control - save on pollution and traffic congestion in the Highlands

  14. atropine blackout

    Moving Target

    From the perspective of a tree-growing old bloke, with some practical experience of sending lead down-range, this problem isn't at all easy to fix. We already know (from tree damage, direct observation, dung counting, and so on) that we have too many deer in many areas in Scotland - the problem is one of control, not measurement.

    Any 'credible predator' feeling peckish is probably more likely to take a swing at some local sheep rather than chasing deer for miles over rough terrain. That might get a few but probably not enough.

    Shooting deer is not a particularly efficient way of controlling deer numbers. With sufficient firepower, equipment and determination, it can work well on open moorland, but is generally much less effective with deer species that prefer woodland cover (in Scotland that would often be Fallow and Roe deer).

    Having been shot at, deer will typically 'up sticks' to another area and/or become entirely nocturnal. The whole enterprise then becomes *much* harder and more expensive.

    And even in the event that SNH *do* get hold of some shiny new technology which churns out reams of accurate deer numbers (unlikely in the case of woodland-based deer), it is not at all clear what our next move would be.

    Words like 'shark' and 'laser'come to mind, but then again.....

    1. USER100

      Re: Moving Target

      Scotland has issues. Number one: not enough trees. Number two: too many sheep (and deer). A balanced ecosystem would automatically deal with the deer population. Predators (wolves) would limit deer numbers.

      Part of the problem is that half of Scotland is owned by bellends who enjoy the 'sport' of shooting grouse etc.

      The solution is simple: remove ownership of the land, and allow it to revert to its natural state.

  15. Rimo53

    Export them!

    Australia exports sheep to the Middle East, why not deer?

    A lot of countries in west Africa would love to have some deer meat.

    Also, the lynx idea sounded great.

    1. x 7

      Re: Export them!

      Most sheep exports to the middle east go as live cargo - an awful situation, whole shiploads overpacked into sweltering tin cans.Tens of thousands at a time.

      UK legislation would never let you do it, and the deer would die of fright anyway.

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