Wildlife charities have backed calls from a member of the Scottish Government’s environment committee for more deer culling powers in a bid to protect woodland and habitat.
Under the current system, the management of deer numbers in Scotland is mainly carried out by landowners on a voluntary basis.
But under MSP Michael Russell’s suggested amendments to the controversial Land Reform Bill, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) would be given stronger powers to urge landowners to take action.
Environmental charities say that in some areas of Scotland, high deer numbers are causing damage to internationally important habitats, ancient woodlands and peat bogs.
The rural affairs, climate change and environment committee believes the voluntary deer management scheme is not tackling the issue and has urged the Scottish Government to consider strengthening its approach to culling them.
Mr Russell’s proposals have been backed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB Scotland, Cairngorms Campaign, Ramblers Scotland, John Muir Trust and Woodland Trust Scotland. His suggested changes to the Land Reform Bill call for more powers to be given to SNH to ensure deer populations are better controlled by deer management groups to “protect the public interest”.
The radical Land Reform Bill – which includes plans to transfer one million acres of land into community ownership by 2020 – has been widely criticised, with claims it would put thousands of jobs in rural Scotland under threat.
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 spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) said: “Deer are a respected and irreplaceable resource to many small and fragile communities which rely on income from staking, sensible deer management, tourism and venison sales and we hope the Land Reform Bill remembers, when balancing objectives, that one of its central aims is to promote the economic resilience and viability of communities rather than pulling the carpet from underneath them.”
The Scottish Conservatives have also raised concerns, stating that deer should not be “treated as vermin”.
But Mr Russell insisted that recent information from SNH confirmed that the voluntary system of deer management was not working.
He said: “It requires considerable legislative strengthening if it is to be an effective way of controlling the ever increasing number of deer across Scotland which in some places is threatening biodiversity and the existence of commercial forestry.”