Scotland’s gamekeepers have urged Scottish Natural Heritage to consign helicopter assisted deer culling to the past saying reviving the practice will be a shameful day for animal welfare.
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, which represents professional deer managers, made the plea after learning SNH was considering deploying helicopters and hit squads.
Using helicopters to transport marksmen in groups to surround and kill deer first hit the headlines in controversial fashion at Glenfeshie Estate by Kincraig in 2004.
Hundreds of deer were killed outside the legal season by marksmen flown in to the area to protect the Caledonian pine forest regeneration, under licence.
The adverse publicity lead to a Government inquiry, with claims that hyper-stressed deer were held in one area with no means of escape and shot at constantly by rifles for over 90 minutes.
Witnesses reported and filmed deer with significant injuries being left for long periods in agony before finally being dispatched.
Similar culls took place at Caenlochan in Grampian in 2005, with harassed deer breaking through snow fences at Glenshee Ski Centre in a desperate bid to flee the fire.
A report by The Royal School of Veterinary Studies at the time concluded helicopter assisted culls were amongst the worst for shooter accuracy, with flighty deer already on the move reacting to the noise of rotor blades.
SGA said their officials last week learned, during a talk by a senior SNH official at Holyrood, that the heritage body was bringing back helicopter assisted culls.
That has led them to speak out saying the method is against the vision of modern deer management set out in the government’s own blueprint for Scotland.
"No one is denying the need for deer management. The question is the methods to be used in Scotland today," said SGA vice chairman Peter Fraser, a retired deer stalker of 50 years experience, who witnessed the Caenlochan cull.
"We have more qualified deer managers than ever yet we are seeing things like 86 culled stags being left to rot on a hillside by conservation bodies and found by walkers in Knoydart.
"Now Scotland’s own heritage body is looking at using helicopters to transport shooters and carcasses - a practice causing a significant percentage of animals, after being shot, to run or walk away without collapsing due to poor accuracy.
"At the SGA, we are looking to our native deer to become a valued resource for Scotland’s communities, to create employment and to grow the venison industry in a sustainable way.
"How can this be done when the government’s own advisers want to treat deer like this, rendering them worthless? It is a shameful practice and a welfare disaster."
SGA member Niall Rowantree, a former forest ranger who organised helicopter culls in the Trossachs, says the method is a backwards move, at the expense of the Scottish taxpayer.
"It is not a part of sustainable deer management and flies in the face of the Government’s blueprint, Wild Deer: A National Approach. I know because I did it myself.
"I think there would have to be justification about taxes expended on a very expensive method which hasn’t worked, particularly when forest rangers’ jobs are being cut. The fact they are having to return to this, after only 17 years, proves it doesn’t work.
"We are also taking a national venison resource and reducing it to its lowest possible value which does nothing for sustainable communities. If the idea is to protect woodland, we should be looking to use the army of non-paid stalkers only too happy to assist with deer management."
A spokesman for SNH said: "Managing wild deer in Scotland’s hills is extremely challenging. A number of estates have asked us to help them use helicopters to take stalkers to remote areas.
"This help allows estates to achieve their deer management objectives and get deer numbers in balance with their environment. We make sure that those taking part are trained to the highest standards of safety and deer welfare."