By Mark McKinlay
CRIMINAL gangs are cashing in on the rising price of venison by slaughtering Scotland’s deer, according to gamekeepers.
They say organised gangs are travelling to the hills to illegally kill the animals after the price for their meat shot up by almost 40%, to £2.20 per kilo.
The poachers are travelling even believed to be using dogs to help track the animal.
But critics have denied there has been an increase in illegal activity, which gamekeepers claim is on the rise in the Highlands and west of Scotland.
While estimates of the increase range from 50% to as much as 300%, the National Wildlife Crime Unit has stated that it “does not support any claims of increases or decreases, aside from the usual seasonal trends.”
Alex Hogg, chairman of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, hit back, saying gamekeepers are among the first people to notice poachers.
He said: “Because it is keepers who are the eyes and ears of the countryside, we tend to see problems like this first hand. If there is any poaching going on, we are usually at the sharp end.
“Speaking among ourselves, there is definitely a case that this has become more prevalent again. It went fairly quiet for a couple of years but it is creeping up again. This is nothing to do with old-fashioned poachers, this is about basic criminality and is a serious issue which requires careful and appropriate handling.”
A gamekeeper from Sutherland backed up Mr Hogg’s claims, “There is no doubt there has been an increase in poaching in the last couple of years and more than at any time in the last 10.”
He blamed the increase on limited police resources in the vast area of the Highlands combined with the increasing prices for venison, which has jumped from £1.60 per kilo to £2.20.
He added: “One way to stop it is to persuade people who run places like hotels and restaurants to think before buying dubiously sourced venison, and for them to realise that they can be charged if they buy venison from a poacher.
“But while they continue to buy, the economic rationale for the poacher continues. If the outlet was blocked, poaching would be stopped. I think there is a clear case for a greater regulation on the traceability of the venison.”
Another estate worker from nearLoch Lomond said there was no doubt the increase was due to a commercial enterprise.
He said: “The Loch Lomond area is one of the worst areas, an it is not a single poacher out for something for the pot. The poachers down here are coming fromGlasgowwith lurchers.
“It is organised. They are going out after the deer and they don’t care how many they take or injure. I know of one keeper who was out trying to find a deer which had a crossbow bolt in its flank.”
PC Ian Laing, Fife Police’s only full-time Wildlife Crime Coordinator, believes more landowners and farmers were reporting incidents and that Scotland’s police forces are working together to tackle the problem.
“We only have roe deer in Fife, but poachers are willing to travel long distances and what we have seen is evidence that red deer have been gutted in the woods near the Tay Bridge. People are going up into Tayside and further north into Aberdeenshire to shootred deer, then taking them back toFifefor the butchering process…under the cover of darkness.
“We work in partnership with Fife Council and now when environmental health officers are in food premises and see venison on the menu, they ask how it has been sourced.”
Scotland’s deer population has existed for around 20,000 years with both Roe and Red species being native to the country. Hunting of the animal is a lucrative business for many Scottish estates although harsh winters have seen their numbers fall over recent years.