GAMEKEEPERS are warning that over-enthusiastic deer culls are putting rural jobs at risk and threatening the traditional Scottish sport of deer stalking.
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) believes that culls carried out by conservation bodies such as the John Muir Trust are to blame for a shortage of deer on the hills.
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In the New Year the SGA aims to take its concerns to the Holyrood parliament, claiming that a relentless drive to turn the Scottish landscape to woodland is to blame for excessive culling.
Scottish Government policy is to plant 10,000 hectares of new woodland across Scotland each year until 2022. Gamekeepers claim that organisations are turning to culling in order to prevent deer from eating and destroying young trees.
A briefing note produced by the SGA claims that, in certain areas, red deer are being culled to such a level that communities which are reliant on deer stalking for much-needed revenue are suffering.
The SGA has been told by stalkers in the West Highlands whose land is fringed by Forestry Commission ground that they can no longer welcome their annual parties of overseas shooters as there is no longer enough stags to offer sustainable sport.
“This also affects accommodation providers, outfitters, garages, restaurants, shops, game dealers and vehicle suppliers,” the note claims.
Yesterday, Alex Hogg, the SGA chairman, said: “This really concerns us. You have now got areas in Argyll where you can drive for 100 miles and never see a deer. They have got rid of them completely. It is really hard to put a figure on how many jobs are at risk. But the people we are speaking to say everybody is frightened that it is getting nearer and nearer the time when owners will say that ‘we can’t afford to keep you on’.”
The SGA briefing note claims that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the Scottish Government quango set up to look after the environment, is granting a “significant number” of authorisations for night lamping (night shooting) of deer in Forestry Commission ground, which could have “implications for animal welfare”.
Mike Daniels, head of land and science for the John Muir Trust, said: “Deer counts indicate that red deer numbers have risen relentlessly in recent decades, from 150,000 in the 1960s to over 400,000 today.
“Meanwhile, we have lost 14 per cent of Scotland’s native woodland over the same period – the same rate of loss as that suffered by the Amazon rainforest.
“The health of native woodlands reflects the health of a nation. Our native woodlands are vital for wildlife, combating climate change and helping to regenerate some of Scotland’s most isolated and fragile rural communities.”
A Forestry Commission Scotland spokesman said: “We use a combination of culling and fencing to manage deer across the National Forest Estate, throughout the year, making appropriate use of night shooting and out of season authorisations.”
Robbie Kernahan, SNH’s head of wildlife operations, said: “With no natural predators, there are some parts of Scotland which have more deer than the habitat can sustain. Culling deer is often the only way to protect crops, woodlands and designated natural areas, as well as to reduce road accidents.”
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