Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is advising hill walkers to check online about deer stalking on estates before heading out for the hills.
The stag stalking season (1st July to 20th October) is a popular time of year for walkers, so three years ago SNH set up the Heading for the Scottish Hills website. The web service has proved popular with walkers with 7500 visits last year. This year, in a collaboration between SNH and Walkhighlands, the detailed information from the Heading for the Scottish Hills will also be directly available on the relevant hill routes on the Walkhighlands website.
The information provides stalking details from the participating estates and contact details for further information. Some estates provide detailed information on the site up to a week in advance, describing where and when stalking will take place, as well as suggested walking routes. Some estates have provided less detailed information but with a contact phone number or email. Hillwalkers are encouraged to use these contact details to ask the estates for details of any stalking activity on the days they plan to go walking. There is also information about responsible behaviour for land managers and walkers. Most estates start their stag stalking in August but stalking can take place anytime from 1st July.
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code encourages walkers and other recreational users to take reasonable steps to find out about stag stalking, this is made much easier with the Heading for the Hills website and the collaboration with Walkhighlands. The web service has replaced Hillphones this year because of demand for an online service.
The website has expanded in 2012 to include more of Scotland’s most popular hill-walking areas, including in the Cairngorms National Park, Breadalbane and the west coast.
Fiona Cuninghame, SNH recreation and access officer, said: “This web service is a quick and easy way to check that you won’t disturb deer stalking when you’re out in the hills between July and October. I’d encourage all walkers to try the site out and let us know what you think.”
Andrea Partridge, Mountaineering Council of Scotland Access Officer, said: “The Mountaineering Council of Scotland has been closely involved with the Heading for the Scottish Hills website and is delighted to see that it has been further extended to provide essential information on stalking areas. We would encourage all hill-goers to check the website especially during the stalking season and contact the relevant estate.”
Paul Webster from Walkhighlands, said: “We’re delighted to bring the latest stalking information from the participating estates direct into route descriptions for the hills affected. Providing all the information in one place will hopefully mean more hillwalkers become aware of deer stalking issues and are able to better plan their days on the hill as a result.”
Richard Cooke, chairman of the Association of Deer Management Groups, said: “The number of people going to the Scottish hills for recreation has increased steadily over recent years and in some cases that can make it difficult for deer managers, particularly during the autumn period. There is no reason why both walkers and stalkers can’t share the hills, but the need is for more readily available information so that all hill goers can take account of the needs of others. We see the online version of “Heading for the Scottish hills” as a really important step forward in that communication process.”
The online stalking information covers estates featured in over 100 hillwalks on Walkhighlands. The detailed stalking information will be updated daily from the Heading for the Scottish Hills website (individual estates update the information on a variable basis, with some posting a very general statement and a phone number, and others offering more detailed information with specific dates – the estates also usually state days when stalking does not take place), an example of a route on Walkhighlands with stalking information is Mount Keen.
The Scottish Access Code provides general advice about stalking and hillwalking and SNH summarises it as, “Where estates have indicated where stalking will take place hillwalkers should avoid crossing that area and it is reasonable for them to ask you to follow alternative routes. Avoid wild camping in places where stalking is planned for the next day.
“Land managers should not make it unreasonably difficult for you to access the hills, such as asking you to keep to low ground. Estates cannot always tell where they will be stalking in advance and most will be unable to say where more than a couple of days in advance, so it is not always possible for land managers to provide precise daily information and alternative routes. Some estates may provide more general messages – such as asking you to follow particular routes to the summits during the stalking season. These requests aim to reach a compromise between the needs of hillwalkers and stalkers, but because they apply for more than a day, they may include some times and places where stalking is not actually happening. You will need to judge whether such requests are reasonable.
“If you have been unable to find out where stalking is taking place, for example because the estate is not in Heading for the Scottish Hills, it is responsible for you to go ahead with your walk, but take into account reasonable advice given locally or once you have started, such as on notice boards or given by a stalker. You may also wish to help by using paths and following ridges.”