Highland deer cull rejected on Quinag Estate
A controversial bid by a wild land conservation charity to cull deer out of season on a Highland estate has been rejected.
The John Muir Trust (JMT) had applied to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) for authorisation to shoot more deer on the 9,140-acre Quinag Estate, which it purchased for £600,000 in 2005, after 15 February which is the end of the hind season.
The charity claimed it needed to increase the cull in order to protect the ancient Ardvar woodlands, which are a Special Area of Conservation and a Site of Special and Scientific Interest.
But the proposal was opposed by neighbouring landowners who feared a continuing cull would reduce numbers to a level that would impact on nearby sporting estates and the region’s fragile economy.
The Government agency SNH has now turned down JMT’s plan, a decision which “disappointed and surprised” the charity.
A spokesman said the outcome would be welcomed by those estate who wish to “maintain high deer populations purely for sport”.
And Mike Daniel’s, JMT’s head of land management, said: “It’s a tragedy that people have eradicated the natural predators, such as lynx and wolf, which would have kept the populations of deer at sustainable levels.
“Instead, deer management is now in the hands of humans. In Scotland, given the soaring deer population, we’re clearly failing.”
Fraser Symonds, SNH’s North Highlands and Islands operations manager, said JMT had already met its stag cull target, understood to be 45 beasts, and was close to its hind cull target, thought to be around 80.
He acknowledged that Ardvar woodland was in a poor condition due to browsing from red deer and also that current deer cull numbers had not succeeded in improving the condition of the trees.
However, he said: “Discussions with interested parties are underway on management measures to rectify this.”
He added: “We recognise that a new plan of action is needed to address different and legitimate land management objectives.
“We believe the current agreement between the landowners involved provides the best route to achieve this and we will continue to work with the parties involved to find a solution.”
Mr Symonds said it was hoped that an aerial count of deer scheduled for early March would help guide future discussions.
JMT’s deer officer Lester Standen said: “We’re disappointed and surprised that SNH has refused the out of season authorisation for Quinag, given that they have already agreed that we satisfy all the criteria.”
He pointed out that Ardvar woodlands had been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest since 1972, and a European Special Area of Conservation in 2005.
According to Mr Standen, the deer population in Ardvar had tripled in the last 40 years.
He said that SNH had agreed that the woodland was in a “declining and unfavourable condition” and in danger of disappearing completely.
Mr Standen added: “This decision will be welcomed by those who maintain high deer populations purely for sport, despite the detrimental impact on the environment.
“These people believe that woodlands and other wildlife are not important, and that deer should be fenced out of the food and shelter that they need rather than be maintained at sustainable numbers.
“Sustainable deer management can bring many benefits in the form of local stalking income, venison in the food chain, native woodlands thriving naturally in Scotland for future generations without unsightly and ecologically damaging fences that cost taxpayers millions, and healthy deer able to access their natural woodland habitats when they need to.
“We will continue to try and persuade SNH and neighbouring landowners in Assynt that this precious part of our country’s rich natural heritage is worth protecting.”
Mike Daniels, head of land management for JMT, added: “If John Muir had witnessed the degradation of Scotland’s landscape’s over the past centuries, his heart would have ached.
“He wrote at length about the rampant deforestation happening in California in the late 19th century, saying: “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.”
“When he wrote this, Scotland had already lost most of her native tree cover to centuries of exploitation. The people of Assynt were being cleared for the large-scale sheep farming that would render much of the good fertile land there infertile.
“Then the Victorians turned to managing the land to favour the single species needed for their sports.
“The land use patterns established at this time have changed little. The John Muir Trust is a relatively small organisation trying to help nature flourish again for the benefit of many species, including people. We don’t purport to be the official representative of the late John Muir on earth, but he inspires us.”
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