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Deer Forest Royal Commission of Inquiry, 1892 (I)

Deer Forest Royal Commission of Inquiry, 1892 (I)

Background to the Deer Forest Royal Commission of Inquiry, 1892, by Angus "Ease" Macleod, Calbost and Marybank.

Around 1800 there was no objection to the people taking a stag at any time, but in 1832 the Day Trespass Act was passed and any person found trespassing in pursuit of deer could be fined.

In the 1840s deer shoots and deer forests were greatly popularized when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited the Highlands and took part in the shooting of deer. The Queen's interest and example in deer hunting in the Highlands encouraged both female as well as male members of the aristocracy to participate in this blood sport.

Demand for Highland deer forests continued to increase for the rest of the 19th century, as did the rent charged by the landowners. There was no way that crofters could compete with the rents that the aristocracy were prepared to pay for sporting parks. In the circumstances there was a steady increase in the number of deer parks in the Highlands, particularly in the second half of the 19th century when profits from sheep farming declined and the former sheep farms were converted into deer forests.

A total of 73 deer forests existed in the Highlands in the early 1870s and according to Napier, that number had increased in 1884 to 110, covering an area of almost 2,000,000 acres. The Parliamentary return for 1891 shows that there were 130 deer forests covering 2,472,133 acres. By the 20th century 34% of the land of the crofting counties were under deer forests and that trend continued until the First World War at least. On the last occasion the figures were published in 1957 there were 2.8 million acres of land devoted to deer forests.

The truth is that the natural resources of the Highlands and Islands, including the land, were always developed in a haphazard manner, with little consideration for the welfare of the native population.

In 1872 a Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed to enquire into the laws for the protection of deer in Scotland, and generally to ascertain whether the substitution of deer in place of sheep was against the interests of the community. It reported in 1873 that the deer forests had not tended to the depopulation of the Country, nor had the food supply of the Nation been diminished by the displacement of sheep by deer. Westminster Politicians and Civil Servants were never sympathetic to the plight of the crofting communities, mainly because they did not understand or endeavour to inform themselves.

Also, the Napier Commission of 1883, whose conclusions may have been influenced by the fact that three of the six members of the Commission were deer forest owners, stated that, according to a summary of the evidence brought before them, it was rarely that crofters, at least in recent times, had been removed to make or add to deer forests, and that comparatively little of the land so occupied could now be profitably cultivated or pastured by small tenants. That was a slanted view with which the crofting community would not agree.

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Title: Deer Forest Royal Commission of Inquiry, 1892 (I)
Record Type: All Records
Type: Land Issues
Date: 1892
Record Maintained By: HC
Subject Id: 58366