PLANS to use gunmen to control rising deer populations in parts of Scotland have sparked a row between forest managers and animal rights campaigners.
The proposed cull could almost halve the number of red and roe deer in public forests throughout Perth and Kinross council area. Animal rights groups have condemned the new proposals.
The council said the mass shooting is necessary to safeguard woodland areas from further damage by wild deer.
Officials are particularly keen to preserve popular sites of scientific interest at Kinnoull Hill, the Birks of Aberfeldy and the Den of Alyth.
The move, which is part of a wider 20-year forest management plan, has left the charity Animal Aid urging Perthshire residents to make a stand.
“Once again, bodies charged with managing the natural landscape in Scotland imagine that they can slaughter their way to environmental harmony,” said director Andrew Tyler.
He highlighted a report produced by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) from two years ago, which claimed Scotland’s red deer numbers had reached a “dangerously low” level.
He added: “Now it seems there are too many and stalkers are to be called in to shoot them,
“Animal Aid urges the public in Perthshire to demand a way forward that does not involve animal slaughter.”
The plan has also been criticised by the charity Scotland For Animals (SFA).
A spokesman for SFA said: “We are most definitely opposed to this. They need to look for alternative solutions. A cull like this is not the only way forward.”
The management programme was backed by members of the council’s environment committee after assurance it would be handled sympathetically.
The council’s woodland policy officer Richard Brough said the deer population is four times larger than it should be.
He said: “The deer are having quite a negative effect on woodlands across the UK so it’s not just a local problem.”
He said stalkers would be selected from a list approved by Scottish Natural Heritage and would be “very discreet.”
A council report states there are between 15 and 20 roe deer in a square kilometre on Kinnoul Hill. The aim is to reduce this to between four and eight.
Plans for the management scheme are expected to be finalised in the coming months.
An SGA spokesman said: “If local deer management groups have agreed that numbers need to be controlled in an area, culling will be part of the solution.”
But he urged the authorities to consider “a suite of options”, rather than just resorting to out-of-season shooting.
He added: “Unless it can be demonstrated that culling outwith the legal seasons is the last resort, qualified stalkers should be able to achieve satisfactory cull levels humanely within the legal seasons.”
A 2014 report by Forestry Commission Scotland found deer represent the biggest threat to Scotland’s native woodlands.
The eight-year study showed ancient forests were being lost due to “excessive browsing and grazing”, mainly by deer. It found a “significant” amount of ancient trees in the uplands had been lost, and identified deer as the main danger to the health and regeneration of indigenous forests.
Recent estimates suggest there are more than 750,000 deer in Scotland. Red and roe deer are by far the most common.
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