The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) has warned against doubling the number of female deer culling seasons after an incident whereby a pregnant deer was found dead on Skye after an alleged cull.
Photographs appeared on social media showing dead female hinds inside a new forestry enclosure near Dunvegan.
The images have been met with much anger from locals, with one even showing a large unborn calf lying beside its mother.
Under regulations, deer managers can use a general authorisation to cull deer inside woodland up until April 1, however, the latest finds appear to be weeks out of season.
Any cull outside of the season is required to be approved by NatureScot, who have said no special permissions have been issued at all on Skye this year.
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A NatureScot spokeswoman said: “The law does not permit the culling of female deer over one year old between April 1 and August 31 unless special authorisation has been obtained from NatureScot as the licensing authority.
“No such licences have been issued on Skye this year.
“NatureScot takes animal welfare extremely seriously.
“We have been in contact with Police Scotland regarding this issue and will work with the police as they look into this.”
A police spokeswoman said: “We are aware the matter and discussing with NatureScot.”
MacLeod Estate deny planning of any cull
The Dunvegan forestry scheme has caused local tensions, with some islanders angry that productive crofting land had been swallowed up for a state-funded rewilding project.
It is understood the fenced tree scheme is part of a £1million native woodland creation project on the MacLeod estate.
A spokesman said: “The MacLeod Estate and its team takes its deer management responsibilities very seriously and the only culling authorised and undertaken this year has been in accordance with the regulations and in permitted areas.”
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) said it had no interest in the politics surrounding the scheme.
However, it urged the Scottish Government against doubling the female deer culling seasons amid concerns for gamekeepers mental health.
‘Not the type of deer management the people of Skye want’
Chairman Alex Hogg said: “We are not going to enter into speculation as to what has happened here.
“What we do know is that one image clearly shows a female, with a very large unborn calf, which has obviously been culled weeks outside of the legal open season.
“Judging by online comments, this is not the type of deer management the people of Skye want to see, climate emergency or not, and we have warned Scottish Government about this very issue before.”
Local councillor John Finlayson said he has been contacted by many concerned locals.
He said: “I am shocked by this. Very clearly this is out with the agreed culling season and not only has it caused distress locally, but obviously there are animal protection issues in this.
“I am aware that people involved, some legitimate stalkers, are also very concerned about this and everyone should be trying to support finding out who is responsible for this.”
Plea for Scottish Government not to sanction changes
Mr Hogg, of the SGA, added: “Deer need to be managed and, in certain circumstances, that has to take place outside of the approved seasons, under authorisation from NatureScot.
“However, the government commissioned Deer Working Group Report recommends doubling the female culling seasons, as a new normal in Scotland, without the need for such authorisations.
“These seasons were hard won and put in place to protect females from being culled in September. September culls increase the risk of dependent calves starving to death in public forests.
“The seasons were also put in place to avoid culling females when they are so heavily pregnant in April that their calves could almost stand by themselves.
“This is the type of management which has clearly reviled those who have seen the photographs and contacted ourselves.
“We urge Scottish Government not to sanction changes which will make this type of deer management the standard in Scotland, whether for tree planting, conservation or anything else.”