Published: 13/11/2014 02:00 - Updated: 12/11/2014 16:28

Only here for the deer?

There’s plenty of deer around – so why is venison being imported from New Zealand?
There’s plenty of deer around – so why is venison being imported from New Zealand?

THERE is so much controversy over deer at the moment that it is difficult to work out just what is happening.

One aspect is certain – the situation with venison is in even greater turmoil than ever, with various organisations and firms putting forward their cases.

Supermarkets can give a cross-section of what is happening and one I went to last week showed promise. There was a shelf, albeit a very small one, on the end of the beef section with a few packages of venison – but there were three customers, perhaps attracted by the sign that said "Scottish sourced venison". There on the labels was a note indicating not only Scottish but "Highland Sourced Venison".

Hope at last, I thought, until I went to the supermarket right next door. It was better for layout, with several packages of venison – and then I looked at the very tiny print on the back. It said "Venison sourced from the UK and/or Ireland and/or New Zealand".

This was a shock in that while New Zealand is very commonly mentioned, I had not seen Ireland before. I can only presume those from Ireland are from deer farms.

In the last few years there has been a sustained publicity drive to encourage the public to eat more venison and to a large extent it has worked.

The main problem has been the myths surrounding the cooking of this meat. One of these has been the recommendation in so many books that the only way to cook it is in the traditional way of marinating in wine to create a tender meat. This is just not the case but, to be fair, the venison has to be treated the right way from when the shot is fired.

There are now many books on cooking game, including venison, but there is one that has withstood the test of time. It is written by Nichola Fletcher, entitled Game for All – With a Flavour of Scotland.

Nowadays there has never been so much controversy over red deer. There is the accusation that there are too many deer, as well as a lack of deer in some areas. This has been compounded by the dramatic increase in sika deer and the hybrids between sika and red deer.

There is no doubt that the home market has grown, as I know from my own experience of buying venison. I always buy sika venison, as I think it has the best flavour. When I get it from the dealer at Bonar Bridge, the Ardgay Game Factory, I will find it labelled indicating which forest it came from.

Other such dealers that can guarantee the source of their venison are coming along and there has been much publicity about one, Highland Game, that now has and arrangement to supply 250 Sainsbury’s stores with venison.

Highland Game processes 55,000 animals at its Dundee HQ and it will be fascinating to see how its arrangements with this supermarket progresses.

Other game merchants are based on deer farming. Such is the case with Holme Farm Venison which deals with deer from its own farms and parks. It can supply prime venison cuts online, which is an advantage, but it has also gone a stage further to produce other products from deer such as clothing and accessories.

The attention to detail is surprising as, for example, with its men’s belts. They are hand-made in deerskin leather. Only the finest full grain deerskin is used on the outside and top quality calf leather on the inner belt for strength.

However, all this news about the rise in the venison market and the market in general can be put into perspective by one fact. I still find it remarkable that every year we are still importing 29,000 deer carcasses from New Zealand. Does this make sense to anyone?

Feeding the controversy over wildlife and wind farms

Record of the week must be the relationship between wind farms and wildcats, however improbable this may be.

The role of wind farms and their effect on wildlife is a big controversy and the latest I heard just about sums it up.

A recent application was made and, as usual, locals were invited to the public meeting where all was explained by the company putting up the various turbines near Inverness.

The turbine site is open with no woodland for some distance and, as usual, the background information is comprehensive. Among this is the usual standard screed about the effect of the turbines on the wildlife. I sometimes wonder if the same person writes these as they are so similar on each one I see.

The one that recently landed on by desk is no different, apart from the photograph of so-called wildlife. It shows a superb close up photograph of a crested tit. There is just no way that the turbines would affect crested tits by any stretch of the imagination.

It reminds me of a telephone call I had a while ago when the local anti wind farm organiser asked me if there were any wildcats in the area. On being asked why, I was told the turbines would have an adverse affect on wildcats. I said they were more likely to gain, as anything killed by the turbines would be eaten by any wildcats.

The phone slammed down.

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