Conservation body criticised – for reversing deer cull policy


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.”


  1. This squabble is between different factions who wish to kill deer for different reasons.

    The solution is to ban bloodsports and scrap the parasitical conservation organisations that prey on public money, and let the deer population rteturn to normal over time.

    • Let the deer population return to normal? Find out about the Rhum experiments. Deer will and do eat themselves out of house and home, to the point where they are starving, parasite ridden and weak. Is this what you recommend?

      What was normal for the area was for the vegetation to be so grazed that the banks of the Dee collapsed, silting up the river, wrecking salmon beds, collapsing the river banks which had no trees to bind them, so damaging otter holts. The Caledonian pine forest, one of the most imporant reminants in Scotland, already marginal due to the age of the trees, could not regenerate with such high grazing pressure.

      How can a charity be parasitical, when it is optional for anyone to be a member or to fund it?

      • The Rum research is not representative of the mainland. It is within a small closed environment and I sometimes wonder what value such an experiment has in the real world. Population crashes are natural and, as an environmentalist, you should know that. Such crashes benefit the remaining deer as the fittest survive and the gene pool is strengthened.

        The high grazing pressure mentioned is down to the artificially high number of deer brought about by conservationists and hunting estates alike, hence the solution I am advocating. What’s the point in encouraging higher populations for killing? Better without the high numbers in the first place. But it’s all about exploitation of deer and the money it makes for those involved.

        Funding from The European Regional Development Fund, The European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund, The Heritage Lottery Fund, The National Heritage Memorial Fund, Historic Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and local authorities, can be regarded as parasitical as we, the general public, have no say in who gets it or whether we support their objectives.

  2. NTS is a body which includes environmentalists.

    The Trust has done what any sensible land manager would do- take on board the information coming from their regular assessments of regeneration growth, and adapt the policy. It would also be ridiculous to ignore the political climate. A conservation organisation which is also a CHARITY (i.e. they don’t prey on public money, they have to seek funds from many different sources) has to adapt or die. Even charities have to be run in a cost effective way!

    This article strikes me as a cowardly attack on Calman and the Trust. Both have listened to the local population more than ever before. Isn’t that moving in the right direction? The Reid review suggested local assemblies-they are happening. How many managers ask for a review then ignore it? That has not happened here.

    Calman has been and is good for the Trust. He hasn’t undermined Trust staff-he has listened more than any predecessor. Anyone who knows history would agree.

    So instead of reverting to the typical mudslinging, become a member of the Trust, help pay for conserve Scotland’s heritage. Influence it through members centres. Be proud of your heritage. The Trust is listening.

    I can guarantee Kenneth Calman and the Trust have done more for Scotland than most. He certainly is more informed.

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