A row has erupted between gamekeepers and one of Scotland’s leading landowning charities over the treatment of deer on a remote Highland estate.
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) is calling on the Scottish Government to investigate claims that the John Muir Trust left the bodies of dozens of stags to rot on a Knoydart hillside.
According to the SGA, the animals were left to decompose on the moor, some with their haunches and heads removed. The SGA has questioned the deer culling techniques of the Trust on their land at Li and Coire Dhorcail.
The SGA claimed the normal practice of engaging with neighbours in the local deer group about intentions for the cull was not observed by John Muir Trust which, instead, informed Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
Despite only 14 stags being observed during indicative cull counts by SNH on Li and Coire Dhorcail, the conservation body shot 86 stags, most of which were left on the open hill. The SGA said neighbours in the deer management group have claimed the practice has cost the local area £100 000 in wasted venison and income from visiting stalkers.
A SGA spokesman said: “Sometimes a stalker has to leave a deer, if its condition makes it unfit for consumption. A professional decision may be taken to leave it to feed a bird of prey and it may be placed out of view of those accessing the countryside. However, not at this number. What is considered ethical and decent has been over-stepped.”
Mike Daniels, the John Muir Trust’s head of land management, said: “Many thousands of deer die on our hillsides each winter – including hundreds in the Knoydart area – because deer populations are too high and they are desperately seeking food and shelter. These deaths are a direct consequence of management practices that aim for high deer numbers for sport shooting regardless of animal welfare or ecology.
“The number of deer we had to cull between July and October – just over 1 per cent of the total population on Knoydart – was higher than usual because we can no longer rely on close season authorisations, which would allow us to cull deer in the winter when they come down from the higher slopes.”