WILD roe deer are being slaughtered for fun by gangs armed with dogs, gamekeepers on a Scottish estate claimed today.
And the “barbaric” persecution of the animals in the south east of the country has been so extensive their numbers may have been halved.
In a horrific find at a field in Craillinghall near Jedburgh last week, the mauled bodies of a female deer and her two fawns were discovered.
Roe deers are being brutally murdered by gangs with dogs for no apparent reason
It is thought some of the hunters are well-heeled professionals who travel north from England.
Tommy Heard, a gamekeeper with Lothian Estates, believes the deer were attacked by dogs.
He claims around 40 deer have been killed this way in the area since the start of the year, with reports of similar incidents south of the border.
Mr Heard said: “They are not poachers and they are not even doing it for sport. It is barbaric.
“The deer is attacked at the back legs by the dogs and torn to pieces.
It is horrible.”
The killers attack at night and use a beam of light to spot the deer before releasing two dogs, which bring down the animal.
Mr Heard added: “These guys are often professionals- we caught one man in a field who was a building inspector in England.
“They are also damaging fields, stealing quad bikes and diesel. It is just another case of rural crime.
“It is the worse I have ever experienced and is getting worse.
“We used to have one or two incidents a year of people either snaring a hare or a couple of rabbits, but this is now serious.”
Head gamekeeper Ed Bell says night-time patrols with a police wildlife crime officer have caught suspected poachers, but have not resulted in any prosecutions.
He said: “It’s quite upsetting to come across animals which have been died like that.
“It’s a horrific way they’re being killed, no one wants to see anything suffering like that.
“Getting mauled to death isn’t a pleasant way for them to die at all.”
He said two of the hunters were a father in his 50s who is a building inspector and his son, in his 20s, from Durham in England.
Mr Bell said the well-spoken pair were caught shining lamps at deer during the night, but could not be arrested as gamekeepers and police did not see them set dogs on the deer.
He said: “We saw a father and son from somewhere down in Durham in the early hours of Friday night Saturday morning. What we caught them doing was shining lamps across the field.
“The procurator fiscal couldn’t touch the case because they were just shining the lamp
“They said they were shining the lamp because they were lost, but why would they do that?
“They were quite well spoken.”
He said the gangs were now “mocking” gamekeepers and the police since no one had been prosecuted.
Professional stalker Brian Soar said: “It has got ridiculous in the Borders. It is not just deer they are targeting, but sheep as well.
“These groups are going otu with pit-bull dogs and just doing it for fun. It is a shocking and inhumane way to die.
“You could understand if they were taking these animals away but they appear to be doing it just for fun.
“The industry has shrunk by 50% across the country, and I would say deer numbers are down by 30 to 50% in the Borders, due to these illegal activities.”
SSPCA superintendent Mike Flynn said: “Deer poaching and deer coursing are national wildlife crime priorities.
“They are increasingly difficult crimes to detect, but we are always encouraging people to contact ourselves and the police with as much information as possible on any activity they have either witnessed or suspect.
“Information such as a car registration plate can be very useful, but more often than not the perpetrators are long gone and the only evidence remaining is the injured or dead animal.
“Anyone with information on deer poaching should contact local police or our animal helpline on 03000 999 999.”
A Lothian and Borders Police spokesman said: “We treat all reports of rural crime seriously and will robustly investigate whenever a report of this nature is made.”