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Scottish Gamekeepers Association backs call to suspend John Muir Trust's out of season licence to cull deer at Assynt

By Caroline McMorran

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The row over an out of season deer cull currently being undertaken by wildland conservation charity John Muir Trust (JMT) to protect woodland on its Quinag Estate at Assynt is escalating.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) has waded into the dispute between JMT and neighbouring landowners who are bitterly opposed to the cull and have criticised regulators NatureScot for granting special permission to carry it out.

Regenerating woodland, with Quinag in the background. Picture:Victor Clements
Regenerating woodland, with Quinag in the background. Picture:Victor Clements

The dispute has seen JMT withdraw from the Assynt Peninsular Sub-Group – a forum for discussion about deer management in the area.

SGA, which represents professional deer stalkers in Assynt, is now backing a call for the licence to be suspended until the reasons for granting it are properly evaluated.

SGA’s deer group representative Lea MacNally said: “The SGA backs the suspension of the out of season licence until this project and its potential impacts can be evaluated properly.”

“The community are not against tree regeneration, as has been demonstrated on their own ground, but this scheme has the potential to seriously imperil employment and cut off much-needed income streams with scant justification for any real environmental gain.”

NatureScot has granted JMT permission to shoot deer until the end of March and at night - in Scotland the stag shooting season runs from July 1 to October 20, and the hind shooting season from October 21 to February 15.

JMT chief executive David Balharry said: “Reducing deer density is essential for woodland restoration at Quinag.”

However neighbouring landowners, principal among them Assynt Crofters Trust says the deer cull impacts on their sporting enterprises, there is in any case not a large area of woodland and it could easily be simply fenced off.

NatureScot said: “The John Muir Trust (JMT) submitted an application to us seeking authorisation to control deer out of season and at night on their Quinag land, to prevent damage to woodland and other habitats, including those on protected sites.

"We have issued an authorisation on that basis. These authorisations are legitimate tools for preventing damage and delivering effective deer management.

“As well as the JMT, NatureScot has been involved in discussions with the Assynt Peninsula sub-group of the West Sutherland Deer Management Group and local stakeholders about these plans.

“While we are disappointed that the collaborative approach has broken down in this area, this has no bearing on our authorisation process, which is about NatureScot satisfying itself that damage is occurring or likely to occur, and that no other reasonable means of control can be adopted to prevent damage.”

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