HUNDREDS of deer have escaped culling thanks to the recent spell of wintry weather.
Since October last year Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has killed 518 female deer in order to protect land damaged by over-grazing.
But this has fallen short of its 830 target despite having the culling-season extended by two weeks.
Campaigners were pleased animals escaped death and told bosses to consider other animals that damage the land such as sheep and hare.
But wildlife bosses said less culls this year means even more will be culled in the future to make up the losses.
Culls are part of a 10-year population-control programme set up by the Deer Commission for Scotland.
It aims to reduce the growing excess deer that roam country estates between Glenisla, Glenprosen and Glenshee in Perthshire.
Donald Fraser, SNH wildlife management operations manager, said: “Unfortunately a small number of estates didn’t reach their hind cull targets this year.
“This means a more demanding target for following years – that’s why we permitted hind culling for a further two weeks beyond the normal season.
“This further culling stopped at the end of February and resulted in 55 deer being shot out of season.
“Everything the local estates do is in keeping with the nationally-agreed Deer Code which makes clear the requirements for deer management including welfare issues.”
Another estate affected by the increase in deer numbers is the Caenlochan estates in Angus.
Bosses there reduced herd numbers to 20 deer per square kilometre – but this fell short of SNH’s own target of 19 per sq km.
It is understood high levels of snowfall was to blame for the drop in numbers as marksmen couldn’t gain access to certain areas.
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) were glad of the failed culls but have called for more research.
SGA vice chairman Peter Fraser said: “There is more to managing deer than just killing them.
“There are problems in Caenlochan but proper research needs to be done – is it deer causing all the problems?
“We would like to see SNH leading on this by assessing deer, hare and sheep impacts in the area.
“Tests have been done in other parts of Scotland on this and we would be happy to assist if asked to.”