The main species of deer found on Attadale is the Red Deer (Cervus elaphus).
It is believed that Red deer have existed in Scotland for at least the last 20,000 years. Prehistoric Red deer were much bigger than the deer of today. But as the ancient forests were cleared and as man began to farm, the deer retreated to the harsher, poorer environment of the Highlands and as a result the body-size declined.
The deer population has fluctuated over the past few centuries. Numbers reached their lowest ebb at the end of the 18th Century when the Highland human population rocketed, increasing the pressure on the deer. This was followed by the introduction of sheep, which became the main industry of the area and deer were seen as a nuisance. However, as the Industrial Revolution expanded, so did individual wealth. This, along with the new developments in sporting rifles, led to a demand for hunting as a favourite pastime for the well-off. Queen Victoria's purchase of Balmoral in 1852 gave deer stalking the Royal seal of approval and made it fashionable to buy Highland Estates and build shooting lodges.
These new landowners were keen to conserve and indeed increase their deer numbers as they believed that the greater the number of deer, the greater the chance of getting good stags. Various attempts were made to control predators and stop poachers. Some landowners were so protective of their deer they even fenced their entire estate to keep the deer in. Remnants of such fences can be seen around Beinn Dronaig and along the path between Achintee and Beinn Dronaig lodge.
It was also at this time that most of the hill paths used by walkers today were constructed. Their original use was as pony paths to allow the deer carcasses to be carried home by sturdy highland ponies. Small gangs of labourers tended to be employed for the summer to maintain and expand the network. The quality of their handy work is reflected in the fact that most of these paths are still in excellent condition today.
In order to make the day's stalking as successful as possible, the lairds took on full-time stalkers whose job was to get the guest into a shootable position. This form of stalking continued right up through the war years. After World War Two, increased public concern over marauding by deer on farmland and the high levels of poaching led to an increased interest in the state of the Red deer in the Highlands.
In 1952, Frank Fraser Darling was given the task of assessing the Scottish deer population and counting began in 1953 along with the Nature Conservancy Council of Scotland. In 1959 the Red Deer Commission (today the Deer Commission for Scotland) was established and was given the statutory duties of "furthering the conservation and control of Red Deer in Scotland". Statutory close seasons were introduced so that the deer could not be shot all the year round and greater penalties were introduced to reduce poaching. From then on deer stalking continued as before, but within restricted seasons and with a small input from the Red Deer Commission.
In the 1980s there were a succession of warm winters, which led to a huge increase in the numbers of deer. The level of natural mortality dropped allowing animals that normally would have died to survive the winter.
In the 1990s the green movement gained greater influence and the general public were once again interested in the environment. A few examples of poorly managed Estates were highlighted in the media and this led to outcries of eroded landscapes and degraded habitats. The deer industry has been forced to take a hard look at itself and reassess its priorities.
Deer management today is in transition with the proposed merger of the Deer Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage. In addition the Deer Act is under review to take account of this change. The landowners' organisation, the Association of Deer Management Groups is taking an increasing role in representing the interests of the sporting estates. It is well recognised that deer numbers should be maintained at a level that does not damage the habitat and provides for a healthy deer population. The survival of the Highlands as we know it depends on the survival of the Highland Estates and their deer.
1.Red Deer in the Highlands
Clutton-Brock and Albon
2.ADMG Leaflet on Deer Management
Assoc. Deer Management Groups