Ponies, coastlines and rugged mountains – a pathway into deer management on Rum

Deer are an iconic species but in high numbers and with no natural predators, they can have a negative impact on biodiversity. Sustainable deer management not only benefits nature but is also an important part of the rural economy. In today’s blog, we hear from Beth Lamont about her unconventional route into the sector and her experiences as a NatureScot Wildlife Management Practical Placement on our Rum National Nature Reserve (NNR).

This hind season marks the last I’ll carry out as a Wildlife Management Practical Placement on Rum NNR, with my time here drawing to a close in July. Deer stalking fits into that satisfying category of physical work where you can measure the effort spent on a day out by the aches and pains of your body at the end of it. Almost two months have passed since the end of the season; my aches and pains from the long days out have faded away, but the skills learned and time spent in the hills doing a job I love will stay with me that little bit longer. 

My route into deer management perhaps wasn’t the most conventional. I came into deer stalking as a complete novice, without cultural or family ties to an industry so famously steeped in tradition. Through my time at university I learned the ecological theory behind the negative impacts of unsustainable deer populations on the Scottish landscape, and left feeling as though I had a decent grasp on the foundations that underpin deer management. In hindsight, I was totally naive to the complex social, cultural and political challenges that are interwoven within the subject and I’ve enjoyed delving deeper into this during my placement.

Deer management first appealed to me as a way in which I could combine work with my love of being outdoors in remote and challenging environments. I see it as a tool in maintaining and restoring healthy, functioning habitats as well as deer populations, getting that balance a little more in tune with the wider ecosystem than we have in the past. I also believe it is an opportunity to connect people with sustainable, locally-sourced food produce – a key theme which we must explore and drive forward in the current climate and biodiversity crises. 

When it comes to deer management in practice here on Rum, every day is different, but the unique landscape makes even the shortest day out an incredible experience. One of my favourite stalking routes on the island is traversing the back wall of Atlantic Corrie below Rum’s highest peaks, before crossing Bealach an Oir and dropping down into the vastness of Glen Dibidil. The steep sides of the glen frame the view towards Eigg, Muck and Ardnamurchan beautifully. Although one of the most stunning spots on the island, Glen Dibidil is also one of the most challenging places to stalk. The terrain on the south side of the island is not conducive to easy access, meaning ATV use is out the window and instead deer extraction is done either by boat or by one of the island’s well known residents – the Rum Highland Ponies. 

Working with the Highland Ponies out on the hill has been a real highlight of my time on Rum. These hardy wee horses are bursting with character, and seeing them carry out the job they’ve been bred to do is an absolute joy, especially with it being a traditional practice that has a low impact on the habitat. They also come in very handy during the winter months when the cold means you inevitably lose feeling in your hands; cuddling the warm spot beneath the ponies’ manes does just the trick in heating you back up!

The Wildlife Management Placement on Rum has been an invaluable stepping stone into the complex world of deer management in Scotland. I hope to pursue this further within the organisation, perhaps by exploring the policy that underpins the action we carry out on the ground, but most importantly by continuing to get out on the hill with lots of people in a range of locations. 

I’ve had the pleasure of spending the past two years being introduced to deer stalking by some incredibly skilled folk and having (hopefully!) learned a thing or two, I’ll be leaving Rum with my Deer Stalking Certificate Level 1 and with my Level 2 in the process of certification. I’ll also be leaving with a passion for deer management that I’ll pursue for the rest of my life, as I continue to spend my time in the upland landscapes of Scotland.

Find out more about Rum National Nature Reserve and sustainable deer management.

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