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

Controversy is escalating over an off-season deer cull currently being carried out by wildlife conservation organization John Muir Trust (JMT) to protect the forests on their Quinag Estate in Assynt.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) has intervened in the dispute between JMT and neighboring landowners, who have bitterly opposed the culling and have criticized regulator NatureScot for granting special permission for the culling.

Regenerating forest, Quinag in the background.  Image: Victor Clements
Regenerating forest, Quinag in the background. Image: Victor Clements

The dispute has led to JMT’s withdrawal from the Assynt Peninsular Sub-Group – a forum for discussion of game management in the region.

The SGA, which represents professional deer hunters in Assynt, is now supporting a call for the license to be suspended until the reasons for granting it are properly examined.

SGA Stag Group Representative Lea MacNally said, “SGA supports the off-season suspension of the license until this project and its potential impacts can be properly evaluated.”

“The community is not opposed to tree regeneration, as demonstrated on their own soil, but this program has the potential to seriously jeopardize employment and disrupt much-needed income streams, with no real environmental gain justified.”

NatureScot have given JMT permission to shoot deer until the end of March and at night – in Scotland the deer hunting season is from 1st July to 20th October and the stag hunting season is from 21st October to 15th February.

JMT Managing Director David Balharry said: “Reducing deer density is critical to restoring the forests in Quinag.”

But neighboring landowners, including the main Assynt Crofters Trust, say deer culling is affecting their sporting operations, there isn’t much wooded area anyway and it could just be fenced off.

NatureScot said: “The John Muir Trust (JMT) have applied to us for permission to inspect deer off-season and at night on their Quinag land to assess damage to woodland and other habitats, including those on protected areas locations to prevent.

“Based on that, we gave permission. These permits are legitimate tools to prevent damage and ensure effective game management.

“Alongside 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 in this area has broken down, this does not affect our permitting process, in which NatureScot is satisfied that harm is occurring or likely to occur and that there are no other reasonable means of control assuming to avoid damage.”

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