Highland gamekeepers have accused a conservation charity of “destroying jobs” amid claims it has culled 86 red deer stags – and left most to “rot on the hill”.
Members of the local deer management community said they were “shocked and stunned” to discover the remains of large numbers of deer at the isolated Li and Coire Dhorrcail, on the north-west coast of Knoydart.
They said the John Muir Trust was “disrespecting convention” by failing to remove most of the carcasses, and was jeopardising local shooting estates by killing such a large number.
But the conservation group insisted the gamekeepers were “simply scaremongering” – claiming that 86 stags represented only just more than 1% of the 7,000-strong deer population on Knoydart.
It is the latest clash in the area between the John Muir Trust and local gamekeepers.
Simon Laird, who runs a local sporting business at Loch Arkaig and is a member of the Knoydart Deer Management Group, criticised the cull.
He said: “I think this would be recognised as very bad practice.
“The real issue is that Knoydart is a fragile, remote community. I think everyone is incredibly frustrated at the John Muir Trust acting in complete disregard to what other people are trying to do.
“They don’t want to communicate. They don’t want to discuss. It’s their way or the highway.
“It’s destroying jobs. It’s not doing my business any good and it’s most definitely threatening one or two businesses with closure.”
However, Lester Standen, John Muir Trust deer officer and Knoydart property manager, defended the cull last night.
He said: “The figure for last year’s cull, which was completed over two months ago, is significantly higher than usual because we can no longer rely on close season authorisations.
“In the past, this allowed us to target stags in the winter months when they come down from higher slopes to the regenerating woodland.
“Unfortunately, Scottish Natural Heritage have removed that option, and advised us instead to ‘maximise the cull in season’.
“That, by necessity, means taking out more stags than would come down to the control area during the winter close season.
“Clearly there are differences of opinion over deer management between traditional sporting estates and those who strive to repair the ecological damage caused by centuries of overgrazing.
“But to suggest that the local economy is being destroyed because of the culling of 86 stags is simply scaremongering.
“Periodically, hundreds of deer starve to death in the area because the deer population is too high due to insufficient culling.”