Jura is an island of around 36,692 ha (142 square miles) in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, adjacent to the north-east of Islay and forms part of the council area of Argyll and Bute. The very name Jura, is thought to date from the Norse-Gael era, derived from the Old Norse word Dyrøy meaning "deer island". Red deer (Cervus elaphus) are a priority species within the Upland Ecosystems of the Argyll and Bute Biodiversity Action Plan and according to an SNH Commissioned Report in 2010 ‘Special qualities of the National Scenic Areas’, herds of red deer comprise a key component of the landscape.
Jura is mountainous, with The Paps of Jura dominating the landscape. Except for small strips on the east coast, Jura is underlain by Dalradian quartzite, an extremely hard and resistant rock. Deposited around 750 – 550 million years ago, the rocks of Jura are part of a sequence of rocks known as the ‘Dalradian Supergroup’ which were at the edge of an expanding ocean. As the least deformed and metamorphosed rocks of this type in Scotland they are important for studying original sedimentary features and processes.
The coastal fringe has dramatic raised beaches and cliff lines on the west side of the island, and indented bays and islets on the east shore. The southern part of the island, from Loch Tarbert southwards, is designated as a national scenic area (NSA). The island is covered largely by vast areas of wet heath and blanket bog with some woodland, both semi-natural and planted.
Jura has a rich biodiversity and is noted for its bird life, and especially for its raptors, including golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, hen harriers, ospreys, buzzards and peregrines. The seas around Jura form part of the Inner Hebrides and the Minches Special Area of Conservation due to their importance for Harbour porpoises. Grey seals and otters are relatively common, as is the adder, the UK's only venomous snake. A range of Bryophyte species have been recorded including 37 species of liverworts and 56 mosses. These include Dumortier’s liverwort and the nationally scarce blunt-leaf tufa-moss.
The acid soil along the shore is thin and stony, mostly bare and infertile which limits the opportunities for crofting or agriculture to small localised areas in the east. With only 196 inhabitants recorded in the 2011 census (the population is currently around 230), Jura is one of the least densely populated islands of Scotland. The main settlement is the village of Craighouse on the east coast, home to the Jura distillery, the island's only hotel, shop and church.
Since Henry Evans pioneered the gathering of information to help inform deer management on Jura in the late 1800’s, those entrusted with the stewardship of the island’s wild deer herd have long since demonstrated the ability to gather useful data and work together.
Deer counts have been undertaken since the 1960's and show a fairly steady deer density of about 5000 animals. That means there is more than 20 deer for every person living on the island.
Today deer management may be guided by the Code of Practice on Deer Management but the information captured by Evans in his book Jura Red Deer published in 1890 is as relevant today as it was then. These links with the past serve as a useful reminder that deer and their management have been at the heart of this island for a considerably long time. For the generations of stalkers, owners and managers involved today in the management of deer on Jura, the responsibility to continue to manage this resource in a sustainable way is inherent and long-practiced. Deer continue to be deeply woven into the cultural and historical fabric of this unique island.