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The Cull: Scotland's Deer Dilemma

Updated: Jun 10

The Cull explores the different views on deer management in Scotland and delves into the reasoning behind the vitriol. It also serves as a vehicle for us to discuss the topic of how we interact with our natural environment, and how ’wild land’ is managed and used in Scotland today.


The Cull is a film that explores the different approaches to deer management in Scotland, presenting a range of perspectives on a topic that has been passionately debated for more than six decades.

Rewilding is something that has been discussed at length, but this film reminds us just how complicated the term "rewilding" actually is, and that land regeneration is interwoven with cultural heritage, community, and local production.

We caught up with the film's director, Ted Simpson, on capturing such an important, complicated and much-debated topic.

A stag proudly stands on a Scottish hillside, an image captured by filmmaker Ted Simpson, staring down the photographer.

Why did you want to make this film?

The red deer dilemma in the Scottish Highlands is a controversial, multifaceted debate. We found really quickly that talking to people about red deer would lead to discussions about politics, cultural heritage, environmentalism, land reform… it was much bigger than just deer.

When we came to research the topic and began talking to people on the ground, we realised how much breadth of opinion and vitriol lay in this debate. I wanted to use the red deer question as a vehicle to try and understand and unpack these different perspectives.

We wanted to give the audience that same experience to be able to listen to a wide range of opinions and come away with a deeper knowledge and something to think about. I think that’s really important as we move forward with really important discussions, especially about the future of our wild spaces that all opinions about the future of our environment are being discussed and engaged with.

Were you wary about taking on such a divisive subject?

We were aware of the controversy surrounding the subject, but we saw it as an opportunity. I’d not seen a film that puts all of these opinions together in one place, or even something that explored the deer cull and rewilding with much nuance. More importantly, these topics are a big part of Highland life and discourse today, and will massively affect future generations. We thought it was really important to try and bring that to a wider audience and when doing that, we felt it vital to bring the full picture.

Also, not being beholden to any side or viewpoint, we realised we could approach the debate and the subject in a fresh way; by putting all these viewpoints together, we’re allowing the audience a greater understanding of the debate, but also showing them the common ground too.

Did it alter your opinions on land use in Scotland?

The more I learnt about the topic, the harder it was to have a strong opinion. It’s a really complex debate, and truly there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer.

But there are a lot of compelling arguments featured in the film. Everyone will have a different take, relate to different characters and that’s okay. The purpose of the film wasn’t to share our opinions as filmmakers, or editorialise; it was to provide a snapshot of the different perspectives present in the Highlands today, on the future of wild land in Scotland.

That’s the goal behind the film, really: to give people an introduction to the subject, and also challenge their preconceptions. It’s not to give them the easy answers, because I don’t think there are any easy answers.

Filmmakers during filming of The Cull, hiding from deer, preparing their equipment.

Were there any stand-out moments?

I think for me, the time we spent out talking to different people and communities in the Highlands was really special. Understanding their stories, and listening to their perspectives, made me realise how important films like this are it was a privilege to make.

What was the biggest challenge?

There were a few challenging moments! We produced the film with no budget or financial support, throughout a historically stormy Scottish winter. I’m really thankful for the crew that came with us for each shoot, despite the tough weather conditions and long days, and for the film’s producer, Fin it took a lot of commitment to get this film off the ground. I edited the film in isolation during the pandemic lockdown...

Looking back, the biggest challenge was probably taking on a film of this complexity as our first long-form film. But I’m really glad we did.

How would you summarise the reaction to the film?

The reaction has been incredible. We hoped that the film would be able to reach past the people directly involved in the debate in the Highlands and engage a wider audience. Seeing the positive reactions to the film from places as far and wide as Canada and Texas, I think we’ve achieved that.

We were also totally blown away at the accolades that the film has received. Best of all, the film seems to have inspired most to pause for thought, and to examine their own perspectives. I think that even if you don’t agree with the opinions in the film, they still exist, and need to be engaged with if you want to move forward. With audiences all over, the film has sparked fantastic conversations. Even if that’s not meant a change in opinion from those who watch it and feel strongly about one particular side, hopefully it means a better understanding of the other perspectives, and the common ground between them.

What will you take from your experience with The Cull into future projects?

I think this film, and the reaction to it, has proved to us that there are audiences out there who want to see a different type of natural history storytelling. They want to hear stories of real life on the wild fringes, and people’s honest relationships with the natural world, good and bad, in all its messy forms. They’re ready to engage with environmental films that move on from the doomsday messaging, and discuss the action being taken now that will impact our future.

We are an unavoidable part of the natural world, and I think audiences are clamouring for films that reflect and explore that. That’s exactly what we wanted to do with The Cull, and that’s what we want to keep doing with our next films - so stay tuned!

The crew of The Cull, in the wilderness of Rannoch Moor, Scotland, talking through a scene.

About Ted Simpson, Just Trek Collective

Ted is a self shooting director and editor, working across commercial and documentary. His main interests lie in exploring stories of human connection to wild land and wild spaces.

In 2018, Ted released his first short film, 'This Is The Northland' which was recognised at several festivals across the UK, notably including the 2018 Kendal Mountain Film Festival, and won the 'New Talent' Award at Adventure Uncovered Film Festival.

Working with WWF International, Ted directed and produced a wildlife documentary online series entitled ‘Expedition Congo’, released in 2019. The six part series was the first of its kind for WWF, and looked at biodiversity in the Congo Basin. The series gained over a million lifetime views across all platforms.

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