Highland Game: Scottish venison donated to London food banks amid declining demand in Covid
Top Scots venison is said to be part of a project that helps families who live in poverty south of the border.
The meat would once have graced the menus of the UK’s best restaurants – but with restaurants across the country closed, tons of products are now lying unused in freezers amid a decline in venison consumption.
The deer population rose to over 2 million during the lockdown, the highest level in over 1,000 years, largely due to restaurant closings.
In response, the Country Food Trust has decided to support those who manage deer in the UK, as well as children and families, by buying up unused venison to help provide nutritious meals to those in need.
READ MORE: Scotland’s game sector welcomes the Scottish government’s cash push to survive Covid
The trust has so far secured 34 tonnes of venison for distribution to charities and food banks across the UK. From Wednesday onwards, dishes such as venison lasagne and shepherd’s pie will be served to mark food waste week.
Tim Woodward, CFT executive director, said he was “delighted” to help distribute game to families struggling during the pandemic. He said, “In the current closed hospitality environment, there is limited demand for game and we are delighted to use it. This delicious and low fat protein is helping people living in food poverty.
“The Country Food Trust is in the process of donating its two millionth meal to the needy and could not have done so without the incredible support of its supporters and the rural community.”
This is being distributed to food banks and charities in London through the Felix Project, a food redistribution charity.
A total of 2.5 tonnes of venison come from Highland Game in Dundee and from Wild Robinson Foods in the Cotswolds and South Downs.
Game supplier Mike Robinson was supplying restaurants with Ben Heath, stag stalker and co-owner of Deerbox, before the pandemic forced restaurants to close their doors.
Mr Robinson said, “When the deer population increased, they ran out of food and we knew we had to sort out to keep the numbers down.
“And we don’t want this delicious healthy food to be wasted. In these unprecedented times, we are delighted to be able to feed some of the poorest people in London with the Felix Project. ”
During the pandemic, the Felix Project delivered three times the amount of food and provided 21.1 million meals to 260,000 vulnerable people.
The charity began distributing the venison on Wednesday and the Ringcross Food Bank in Holloway, north London, was one of the first recipients.
It received shepherd’s cakes made from venison delivered by Highland Game and cooked by With Compassion, a group of chefs.
Before the pandemic, the food bank was serving 6-15 people a day. It now serves more than 170 meals a day.
Mark Curtin, General Manager of the Felix Project, said: “We are very grateful for this delivery of venison secured by the Countryside Food Trust.
“Indeed, this embodies what we are trying to do; Avoid food waste and provide nutritious foods to those who need it most.
“We’re thrilled that families across the capital who are struggling to get through can enjoy these delicious, scrumptious meals.”
The number of deer in Scotland is estimated to have increased from around 511,000 in 1990 to between 750,000 and 1 million in 2020.
READ MORE: You Shoot Deer Don’t You? Scotland’s Culling Controversy.
Deer populations are higher than ever due to restaurant closings reducing the demand for game. Some are concerned about the risk to biodiversity and forest balance in Scotland.
Simon Hodgson, General Manager of Forestry and Land Scotland, spoke earlier this year about the worrying implications this could have.
He said: “Game purchases from the hardest hit hospitality industry have decreased and there is an impact on the prices paid to deer managers for deer carcasses.
“Winter kill has been reduced due to lockdown restrictions and we can only expect much larger deer populations this year.”
He added that Scotland’s forests “are likely to play a central role” in helping the country meet the country’s zero emissions targets.
He said: “Our forests are impressive and are a major contributor to Scotland’s rural economy, and this is due in no small part to effective deer management.”