Skills for Rewilding Q&A: Angus
From our 2021/22 Skills for Rewilding cohort, Digital Marketing Trainee Alice Mellon interviews Angus Crawley, our Deer Management and Estate Maintenance Trainee, about his time at Dundreggan - our flagship rewilding estate in Glenmoriston.
How were you first introduced to the concept of rewilding?
I first came across the concept of rewilding in George Monbiot's book, Feral. That was a great introduction to the philosophy of rewilding and looking at the big picture. What really solidified it for me was reading Wilding by Isabella Tree, which felt more like a guide on how to do it. Wilding beautifully lays out how you work with nature, restoring a landscape for the benefit of wildlife and people. What resonated with me was the focus on processes rather than outcomes.
For me, rewilding is about realising the full potential of a piece of land, where there can be multiple uses and benefits. I think we have a habit of viewing land for a single purpose.
What motivated you to apply for the traineeship, and in particular, deer management?
It was a gradual feeling that I had a responsibility to do something proactive in response to the ecological and climate crises. Before the traineeship, I was working in the outdoor industry. The living I was making was embedded in, and reliant on, the land. I lived in Fort William and over the Covid-19 lockdown I spent almost every day exploring the glen, walking in the woodland and appreciating the landscape in detail. Learning more about ecological processes and the possibility of landscape-scale regeneration, I kept circling back to deer management. It's such a fundamental issue for Scotland.
As part of the traineeship you've completed your Deer Stalking Certificate. Do you think you had a different experience developing these skills at Dundreggan than you would have had at an estate with a different approach to land management?
Yes, absolutely. At Dundreggan, the emphasis is on managing the land. We're looking at the impact deer have on the ecosystem through browsing pressure and ground disturbance. We manage the herd based on welfare, targeting beasts that are least likely to survive the winter or look sick. On a sporting estate, I think you would be more focused on maintaining higher numbers and likely feeding them through the winter. They want the biggest, most impressive stags with lots of points on their antlers. But ultimately, all the skills are transferable. Both conservation estates and traditional sporting estates require the stalker's knowledge and expertise. The way you apply those skills, and the mindset you have, is where it differs.
The average age of a stalker is high. In the next decade many will be retiring and creating space for the next generation. Do you think this will impact the future of deer management?
There is a shift happening at the moment. That's not to say people in the profession are not open to new ideas or moving towards alternative land management practices. But the rate of change could increase quickly as the next generation adopts a more holistic view of our ecosystems.
The other young people I've met getting into this line of work share the view that we're land managers - not just deer stalkers. There is growing awareness of how much biodiversity we have lost in Scotland. More landowners are seeing the ecological and financial benefits of managing the deer population differently. Presenting a long term solution that creates employment, food for the local community, and more resilient and diverse ecosystems is a powerful proposition.
Is there anything in particular you wish people had a greater awareness of?
I've gained an appreciation for the depth of knowledge and skill required to be a good stalker. I have learned to think about the landscape in more detail. You need to understand the terrain, the weather, how the wind will move through the hills, how the deer are likely to behave and how to move without being seen or heard. The job requires intuition and it's different every day. I've developed a deep understanding of the landscape I live and work in. That's the part of my job I want to share with people.