Colleges Best Practice Day

by Jeni Adamson, Policy and Partnerships Co-ordinator, LANTRA

March 2019

I recently joined students from Borders College, North Highland College UHI and SRUC Elmwood at Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve for a Wild Deer Best Practice Day organised by SNH. The objective was to provide a field-based event with access to facilities, processes and techniques that students would be expected to use in a work environment, while promoting the use of best practice methods. The day was split into sessions on habitat impact assessments, carcass handling, firearms and ballistics and, with best practice techniques encouraging high standards in food safety, animal welfare and environment sustainability.

Habitat monitoring

Habitat Impact Assessment – Sinclair Coghill and Holly Deary of SHN demonstrated the importance of habitat monitoring in informing deer management practices. The whole group started indoors with Sinclair going over the mapping of HIA sites using GPS devices or data from a smartphone. We were then split into smaller groups and moved outdoors, being shown how to perform an assessment on different habitat types, from planning, measuring and recording data, to the importance of analysis and interpreting data over time to see what any changes mean in relation to the objectives for the habitat.

Carcass Handling – on the hill…


Carcass Handling – Iain Hope and Jack Ward of SNH led discussions and demonstrations on bringing a carcass from a hill and the lardering of deer. We were able to examine mechanical extraction (using an Argocat vs an ATV), manual extraction, and it was fantastic to hear from one of the students based on Rùm who uses pony extraction on her site. We also discussed the pros and cons of removing carcasses from a hill against leaving them in situ. We then moved down to the larder, where students were able to show their interpretation of processes, and Iain was able to give them feedback and suggestions to minimise risk of contamination and produce a well-presented carcass. Iain also discussed best practice for the disposal of waste arising from carcass preparation.

…in the larder

Firearms and Ballistics – the session began with Jim Govan, formerly of Police Scotland, who gave us a presentation on the anatomy of deer and importance of shot placement, the consequence of bullet damage and how different bullets behave on impact, with ballistic gel simulating the effects on a carcass.

We then moved on to the range under the direction of Jimmy Irvine from SNH. Thanks to the tutoring skills of Ali Cameron and Bobby Innes (FES), I was delighted to find that all my shots made it onto the target!


Terminal ballistics – ballistic gel

The event was of real relevance to the students and complemented their courses – it offered SNH a great opportunity to put forward best practice principals of land management to these new entrants to the industry. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to meet with college staff and students to learn more about their experiences in qualification delivery. Many thanks to all from SNH and the other organisations involved in the delivery of the day’s programme.


Wild Deer Best Practice College Day

Everyone who took part in the WDBP day

Forty-five gamekeeping students from Borders College, SRUC Elmwood and UHI North Highland College visited Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve, near Laggan, for a Wild Deer Best Practice Day, organised by SNH. These College days are designed to introduce student gamekeepers to the Best Practice Guides which inform deer management practitioners on how to maintain high standards in areas such as: food safety, animal welfare and environmental sustainability. The day was split into three workshops covering: carcass handling, firearms and habitat monitoring.


Carcase inspection in the larder

The carcase handling workshop focused on ensuring the highest possible quality of venison product. Rory Richardson, SNH Creag Meagaidh Reserve Manager, and Ali Cameron, Forestry Commission Wildlife Ranger, led discussions on minimising the risk of contamination when dragging deer carcases from hill to larder. Iain Hope, SNH Wildlife Management Officer, took students into the larder to demonstrate carcase inspection. The carcase handling summing up stimulated interesting discussion between the students, SNH and FC staff which included views on the merits of leaving some carcases on the hill versus removing them.

The great cleaning debate

The firearms workshop was led by Jim Govan, a retired forensic ballistics expert from Police Scotland. He gave a presentation on how bullets respond on impact and the importance of shot placement. There has been much debate over the respective performances of copper and lead bullets. Using ballistics jelly, Jim was able to show the students a comparison of the relative effects of copper and lead bullets on a carcase.

Shooting under pressure!

SNH Wildlife Management Officer, Jimmy Irvine, guided the students on the rifle range, discussing factors affecting accuracy. The students were given the opportunity to see the effect of accuracy under different conditions. Marcus Munro of the Highland Shooting Centre took the students through to the process of correctly cleaning rifles – which resulted in some rowdy to and fro on the virtues of cleaning rifles at all! Marcus won some hearts and minds, while other students may remain attached to their own way of doing things.

Healthy heather equals a healthy herd


The Habitat Impact Assessment (HIA) workshop demonstrated how to measure the impacts that deer have on habitats and was led by SNH Wildlife Management Officers: Graeme Taylor, Holly Deary and Sinclair Coghill. The Students split into groups and undertook one plot of an assessment on heathland, blanket bog and in woodland. Knees got dirty and heather heights were measured but, amid some amusement, students were clearly getting to grips with the importance of habitat monitoring in informing deer management discussions. Some students even said they would like to set up monitoring plots on their estates and practise using the HIA method – a clear indication of the relevance of the Best Practice Days and a great opportunity for SNH to engage positively with future land managers, at a formative time in their careers.