SCOTLAND’S conservation body has come under fire from environmentalists – after changing their minds about culling thousands of deer.
The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) had planned the measure to control the population of red deer in the Highlands.
But other conservationists have accused them of pandering to landowners – including the Queen’s estate at Balmoral – who want to keep animal numbers up for recreational shooting parties.
The red deer population has boomed since the 1950s Photo: Mehmet Karatay
The deer population in the Highlands is three times as large as it was in the 1950s and estates have encouraged growth to provide adequate numbers of stags to be shot by paying guests.
But the increasing population has extensively damaged the landscape by eating saplings and heather.
Environmentalists have called for the culling of the animals to allow woodland to recover.
Following complaints from landowners neighbouring the NTS property, Mar Lodge, they commissioned an independent review of deer management in the area, with the results being revealed last year.
Sir Kenneth Calman, the NTS chairman, concluded that the trust had made “one or two mistakes” and had destroyed too many red deer since they took on the property in 1995. The population on the estate is said to have shrunk from 3500 to just 1600.
Spaking in an interview with the BBC, Calman said: “We’ve learnt a significant number of lessons from what happened in Mar Lodge.
“These lessons, I think, can be translated across the country and in that learning process we can reduce culls to a minimum.”
But a top ecologist, and expert on the Cairngorms, has called for Calman’s dismissal following the remarks.
Dr Adam Watson, 82, said: “Calman’s weak, unscientific attitudes have undermined the NTS staff for no good reason other than caving in to irrational and misguided political pressure.
“This is scandalous.
“He should be sacked for bringing the NTS into disrepute.”
The director of Ramblers Scotland, Dave Morris, said Calman was too keen to please hunters and should focus on other recreational pursuits..
He said: “He is touching his forelock to those influential landowners who see nothing wrong with overgrazing our moorlands and woodlands just so there is always a big stag to point their rifle at.
“The NTS needs to come to its senses, remember how much public money has supported its activities so far, and engage with outdoor recreation interests so that confidence in what it is trying to do at Mar Lodge can be regained.”
However the Association of Deer Management groups, which represents estate owners, defended the NTS.
Chairman Richard Cooke said: “We need to get away from the polarised position where you can have trees or you can have deer but you can’t have both.
“You can have both but some give and take is required to agree what best meets all the requirements.”
Dave Frew, the manager at Mar Lodge, said they were continuing to cull red deer to protect woodland on the estate.
He said: “It’s a policy we have applied consistently, neither abandoning nor significantly amending it.”
He added that as a sporting estate they did allow the shooting of deer but limited the number which could be killed to preserve the population for the future.
“It’s all about pursuing a balanced approach which harmonises conservation, field sports and public access objectives, rather than adhering to polarised doctrine,” he said.
But he admitted that the NTS could have better explained their approach.
He added: “We won’t be making that mistake again.
“We’re working to a 200-year timeline, and the past few years confirm we’re making real progress.”