Published on 15 August 2023
David Bavin – ExCASES Postdoctoral Researcher
We have been a very busy team since we came together as ExCASES in March this year. We hit the ground running, focussing our early efforts on reaching out to RENEW partners and external organisations for mission ideas What makes a good mission? accruing a diverse and exciting ‘bank’ of mission suggestions.
We assessed this first tranche of ideas through a step-by-step process of appraisal within the team and presented a shortlist to our Advisory Board (made up of RENEW leads and key liaisons from some of RENEW’s external partners).
Above: ExCASES deer mission planning, National Trust Heelis.
The first mission we are currently delivering revolves around deer management. The increase and expansion of deer populations in the UK are, in places, having a significantly detrimental impact on biodiversity and deer welfare, with associated socio-economic costs for people. The spread and severity of these impacts are forecasted to increase, and it is now commonly accepted by many land-managing stakeholders that population management of deer through lethal control is a necessity.
After a period of scoping, where we engaged with numerous stakeholders from across the spectrum of interest, it became clear that one of the most challenging issues for coordinating deer population management is achieving effective collaboration between landowners. Management efforts are generally hindered by multi-faceted social aspects, especially the complex pattern of diverse land ownership and tenancies in the UK. Landowners have different management priorities and objectives, and views on whether, and to what extent, deer should be managed or culled. The resultant lack of effective landscape-scale deer management prevents or limits positive outcomes for a range of environmental and societal benefits.
One of the potential benefits is perceived to be the provision of venison. However, this too can be a divisive topic. Whilst venison is one of the most ecologically and environmentally sustainable forms of red meat in the UK, hunting and venison are seen by some as associated with sport, affluence and the societal elite, raising questions about accessibility and equity. This connects deer management with broader discussions on land access/ownership, food sovereignty and fair governance of commons resources.
ExCASES are exploring the challenges and opportunities of taking a more collaborative and holistic approach to managing deer, which draws on the expertise and input of a diversity of stakeholders. By gathering different voices in a room, we aspire to increase the awareness and understanding of different perspectives and objectives from all angles, find new pathways towards more effective collaboration, and develop tangible outputs that support best practices.
Our team convened 24 participants at two initial workshops where we explored people’s views towards and prioritisation of issues associated with deer management; identifying barriers, opportunities, and ideals, and discussing future scenarios. These first workshops were highly interactive, rich in conversation, and a lot of fun! Our attention to catering was particularly noted. The feedback so far has been very positive, with broad agreement that engaging with the views of a wide diversity of voices was insightful, informative, and rewarding. The seeds of some novel and potentially fruitful relationships have been sown, notably between deer managers and food justice representatives over the potential societal benefits of increased access to venison. Our team are currently working with the outputs, identifying emergent themes, and designing the next workshop (in September). We will bring together all the participants from the first two workshops to discuss the emergent themes and to identify pathways towards more equitable, effective, and inclusive collaboration.
Above: Deer workshop participants discuss ideal futures of human-deer coexistence in a break-out group.
Whilst the deer mission is our main focus, we are also scoping missions two, three and four, for potential delivery in the Autumn/Winter. We have been delivering the deer mission jointly, but to meet our target of delivering 3-4 missions a year, we intend to divvy up primary responsibility for the next three missions to individual team members. We are currently scoping the feasibility of ‘Are dogs always welcome?’, ‘Who pays the cost of urban trees?’, and ‘People & Nature: lessons learned from the People’s Plan for Nature, one year on’. If you have any interest in these, please do get in touch. Likewise, if you have any insights or interest in the missions in our bank (The-ExCASES-Missions-Bank.pdf (renewbiodiversity.org.uk)), then do make contact – ours is an open door. Feel free to share the mission bank with your contacts.
Above: The success of deer management relies on stakeholder collaboration and engagement. Image credit: Zoltan Fekeshazy
This first mission has been a steep learning curve in terms of governing and delivering ‘agile’ research that focuses on collaboration. We have been sharing experiences with NERC’s other Changing the Environment programmes, through conversations, and our attendance at the AGILE Initiative’s summer school in Oxford during July. Some common challenges have emerged, which generally orientate around the difficulties of undertaking participatory, interdisciplinary work on complex issues, within very truncated time frames. We will remain connected with the other NERC programmes, sharing experiences and lessons learnt, and feeding this learning back into RENEW.
Enjoy your summer and keep in touch. David
Banner image credit: Nicolas Lyandrou