Conservation charity defends plans to cull up to 100 red deer stags
A WILDLAND conservation charity has defended criticism over plans to cull up to 100 red deer stags on a Highland estate to protect ancient trees.
• John Muir Trust plans to cull up to 100 red deer stags
• Conservation group says deer population threatens native trees
• Landowners warn of impact on tourism and shooting estates
The John Muir Trust claim the size of the red deer population on its 9,140-acre Quinag Estate in Assynt was damaging protected woodlands at Ardvar and Lochy a’Mhuilinn.
The charity’s proposal to kill up to 100 stags has however come under fire from neighbouring landowners, who fear reduced deer numbers would impact jobs on shooting estates and tourism.
They would rather see the trust fence off sensitive areas of trees as opposed to shooting deer.
But JMT claims fencing was expensive, ugly and also prevented deer which remain from feeding.
Trees in the woods are descendants of the first trees to grow in Scotland after the glaciers receded thousands of years ago. The trust say the woodland also supports 500 different species.
A statement hitting out at the critics said: “As a conservation charity committed to protecting and restoring natural habitats, the John Muir Trust’s approach to land management can differ from that of some other landowners, particularly where deer management is concerned.
“There has been controversy over our deer management policy on Quinag. Some people claim we want to kill all deer, that we favour trees over people, that our deer management on Quinag threatens tourism.
“We have resisted getting involved in a mud-slinging match. However, we do want to lay out a few truths regarding our approach to deer management, habitat restoration and people.”
It added: “High numbers of red deer are having a big impact on woodland habitat across Scotland. Heavy browsing by deer prevents trees from regenerating.
“Scotland already has some of the lowest tree cover in Europe – we can’t afford to lose more, especially of the native variety.
“Some people think that fences should be used to protect trees from deer. We try to avoid fencing. We don’t believe that trees should be prisoners behind six foot high security fences that make them inaccessible to deer who need woodland for food and shelter.
“Fences are expensive and a blot on our scenic landscapes. Crucially, they do not prevent deer culling.”
The trust added: “The key is to get deer to a sustainable number so that we can have deer and trees living together without fences. This isn’t radical – it’s the way it was for thousands of years and it’s the way it is today in many other countries in the world. In the absence of natural predators, this can only be done through culling.”
The statement added: “We don’t want deer to disappear. That’s why we don’t want to fence them out. We provide income for local stalkers and put venison into the local food chain.
“Tourists come to rural Scotland for all sorts of reasons – our dramatic geology, our scenic views, our secluded beaches, our history and folklore, the quality of our food. They come to participate in outdoor pursuits, to photograph and paint glorious landscapes , to see fascinating wildlife, including red squirrels, dolphins, eagles, ospreys – not just deer.”
The Ardvar woodlands were designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1972 and are designated a Special Area of Conservation. The woodland sits on three landholdings – Quinag, Assynt Crofters Trust, and Ardvar.
According to scientific models carried out by Scottish Natural Heritage there are at present 296 stags on Quinag and Ardvar, and studies show a stag population of 150 would achieve a ‘minimum sporting population’ that may also protect the woodlands.
JMT said: “In response to this information, the trust has proposed to cull an upper limit of 100 stags. This isn’t a target. If deer impacts on the woodlands are reduced, then we won’t have to cull as many as this.”
Andy Hibbert, who runs a sporting enterprise on the 2000-acre Loch Assynt Lodge which borders Quinag, said: “This level of culling will just devastate the deer population here. The pressure this kind of cull will put on all of us is going to end it as a business for people.
“I really don’t get the reasoning behind birch trees being of such great importance. Tourists aren’t going to pull over to see trees.”
Assynt Community Council chairman Roddie Kerr said: “It is a big concern for the community and the feeling is that the John Muir Trust are going ahead regardless.
“While an increased cull might not have an immediate impact, it will affect tourism in the long term.”
Assynt Crofters’ Trust chairman Allan Macrae said: “They [JMT] talk about protecting wild land but have scant respect for the animals living there.
“This obsession with native trees is getting out of perspective. Nothing must stand in the way of their protection, regardless of the impact that has on the local community. It is just not good enough.
“When you criticise conservation policies, you are walking a tight rope. The wider public will swallow anything that is done in the name of conservation. They are willing to take it at face value and it is local communities that suffer the consequences.”
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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