OVER-culling of deer to support forestry and conservation is putting rural livelihoods at risk, a report has warned.
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) claimed in a study that pressure to cull increasing numbers of deer to support reforestation was causing Scotland to “lay its greatest wildlife assets to waste”.
The SGA is calling on government to rethink “aggressive” deer culling policies.
It believes the aim of increasing forest cover in Scotland from 17 per cent to 25 per cent by 2050 is leading to pressure to cull deer, which it said are seen in conservation circles as “pests as they trample young trees”.
The organisation thinks that reducing numbers of Scotland’s “Monarch of the Glen” could have a detrimental impact on economic stability in fragile rural areas.
The study, The Economic Importance of Red Deer to Scotland’s rural economy and the political threat now facing the country’s iconic species, was carried out over three years in Sutherland – Scotland’s key deer stalking area.
It found that money from deer stalking and management supported 140 households and 112 full-time jobs.
Sporting estates, it found, fear that cutting the sizes of herds could lead to job losses.
Peter Fraser, vice chairman of the SGA and study author, said: “Scotland is laying its greatest wildlife assets to waste without considering the consequences. And it may already be too late in some places to prevent the devastation from being permanent.
“What is now putting them- and fragile rural economies at risk, are the confused and conflicting aims for the land on which the herds roam.”
Les Waugh, managing director of Ardgay Game in Sutherland, employs 15 people at Bonar Bridge and counts Gleneagles Hotel and Skibo Castle as clients.
“We’re bang in the middle of deer-stalking country and we rely on deer from local estates to make the business viable.
“If significantly more hinds were culled in the short term because of a change in government policy, that would have a serious impact on our business and the families we employ.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have read the Scottish Gamekeepers Association report and agree it raises some important issues. Traditional deer stalking is very important to the economy of rural Scotland and deer themselves are highly valued by locals and visitors alike.
“However, we are aware that heavy deer grazing can cause problems for land owners who are trying to regenerate Scottish woodlands. We believe that it is important to strike a balance between land use objectives such as forestry and deer stalking, while ensuring all deer management is carried out to the highest animal welfare standards.
“To this end the Scottish Parliament recently approved a new code of practice, which is designed to help land managers resolve differences.”