Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) said conflicting evidence on the future of deer management in Scotland should not overshadow the recent progress achieved.
SLE said many findings in a report this week by the Deer Working Group (DWG) – an independent body appointed by Scottish ministers – came in sharp contrast to Scottish Natural Heritage’s report Assessing Progress in Deer Management, which was published two months ago.
The DWG said more culling should take place to reduce the risk of Lyme disease, which can come from ticks that live on deer. The group also said the ban on night sights for hunting should be removed and restrictions on night shooting relaxed.
About 100,000 deer are shot in Scotland annually.
It was also recommended the deer population in the Highlands should not exceed 10 per square kilometre. However, SLE said the SNH report had stated that numbers were already “considerably” below that target.
Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of SLE, said: “Substantial progress has been made in the operation of deer management groups over the past five years, with the sector demonstrating its ability to respond and adapt to new challenges and manage deer in a way that is sustainable and safeguards public interests.
“The DWG report provides 99 recommendations, a number of which will be welcomed by those involved in managing deer. However, given the substantial nature of the report, further scrutiny will be required over the coming weeks. What is clear is the strong focus on drastically reducing the deer population. This conflicts sharply with the SNH report, published just two months ago, which found the red deer population had already dropped considerably to below 10 per square kilometre – and around 22 per cent of the population culled annually.
“While deer numbers are important in setting culls, it has been accepted by SNH for many years it is grazing impacts rather than numbers that are critical in setting and meeting habitat objectives. Any discussion on deer numbers and their impact on the environment is therefore likely to be misleading if not considered along with the grazing impacts of other herbivores.
“We will examine the evidence in the report, but urge a considered approach that does not lose the substantial benefits existing deer management provides to rural Scotland.”