By Claire McKim
ONE of Scotland’s biggest conservation charities is making a controversial bid to more than double the number of deer it shoots at a Highland Estate.
The John Muir Trust (JMT) wants to increase the annual cull on the Quinag Estate, Sutherland, from 45 to 100 stags.
The trust said the move is necessary to protect woodland but the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) claim it goes too far and will damage the local economy.
The SGA says the problem of deer eating saplings and heather could be dealt with simply by building a fence.
The Quinag Estate was bought by the JMT for £600,000 in 2005 and culls deer to try to encourage the regeneration of woodland.
But, as elsewhere in Scotland, this has brought them into potential conflict with shooting estates which earn thousands of pounds from wealthy tourists.
The JMT says the number of trees is too low properly to regenerate the area and is asking permission from quango Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) for the new culling limit.
Mike Daniels, head of land and science at the JMT, said the move was essential to save the ancient woodland.
He said: “[Deer] need woodlands for food and shelter and shouldn’t be fenced out to live only on open hillsides.
“If we can get deer to a sustainable number, then we can have deer and trees living with each other without fences – as they do in many other countries in the world.
“The resulting natural woodland – with its flourishing of plant, animal and bird life across Scotland – will enhance the beauty of our countryside and the draw it has for tourists and locals alike.”
He continued: “To save this ancient woodland, a legally protected site, we have suggested an increase in culling focussed in and around the woodland area.
“SNH’s calculations suggest that deer numbers…can be brought down to a sustainable level for the benefit of the deer, the wider environment and for the clients of sporting estates to shoot.”
But the chairman of the SGA, Alex Hogg, said fences were the answer.
“The SGA has consistently stated that there can be grave consequences for neighbouring estates and communities where there is tree regeneration with insufficient or no deer fencing, leading to more and more deer culled.
“We hope common sense prevails in this case before plans which could affect tourism and jobs in fragile area are taken any further.”
Mr Hogg said the case of Mar Lodge, Braemar, where SNH eventually abandoned its policy of increased deer culling in favour of fencing proved his point.
“Thankfully, the independent review carried out at Mar Lodge Estate in Braemar took on board those mistakes and managers there are now erecting strategic fences that will allow regeneration of pine trees while still accommodating economically important sporting experiences.
“Proper engagement is now in place there.”
Mr Hogg called on the JMT should talk to the local community before going ahead with its plans.