A FUND in memory of an acclaimed naturalist who, in Wester Ross, helped establish the first red deer management group, has been set up to challenge new controls on the animals in the Highlands.
The family of Lea MacNally, who was also a renowned stalker, naturalist, photographer and author, has launched a campaign to fight against legalised out-of-season culls.
MacNally, who died in 1993, aged 66, was the National Trust for Scotland’s first ranger ecologist and the author of six renowned books on Highland wildlife.
Among those who greatly admired his work was Prince Charles, who stalked with him as a mark of respect.
Lea MacNally, who died in 1993 aged 66, established a deer park and an innovative audiovisual installation in Torridon to teach people about deer and Highland wildlife.
He also studied winter deer mortality and became a Fellow of the Edinburgh Zoological Society.
Now his family claim Scotland’s red deer are facing threats which go against everything he worked for in his lifetime.
Referring to recent Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) approval for out-of -season culls, mainly involving Scots pine regeneration schemes, his youngest son, Michael MacNally, 60,
said: “Deer was not just an interest for my father – it was his passion.
“Deer welfare was his principal concern and he would be horrified at what is going on just now, particularly with out-of-season shooting.
“Conservation groups are battening on deer as a whole and treating them as vermin. Anything that can be done to fight this must be worthwhile.”
The family’s opening donation to the fund, run through the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, has financed a response to the Scottish Government’s deer management vision, Wild Deer: A National Approach.
The work, commissioned to renowned ecologist Dr James Fenton, challenges some major aspects of current central thinking on deer management, principally in relation to deer and tree regeneration.
The family says SNH approval for a growing number of licences to enable deer, including hinds in calf, to be culled outwith the legal seasons has meant that deer wandering into regeneration areas where no fences have been erected can be culled for major parts of the year and has resulted in populations being heavily reduced..
This, they say, has significant implications for neighbouring jobs supported by sport stalking, and also for animal welfare.
Lea MacNally junior, 63, said: “These out-of-season licences are being rubber-stamped far too easily without proper assessments and it is this type of thing my father would have found utterly abhorrent. “Where we are, jobs are at risk, too. Estates can’t continue to employ stalkers if their traditional cull is quartered or halved in some areas because many deer are being shot out of season.”