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Claims proposed deer cull in Scotland's national forests will orphan calves

By Gavin Musgrove

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The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has presented a 5000-strong public petition to Nicola Sturgeon demanding the culling of female deer in the nation’s forests this month be halted.

The professional body learned from deer management contractors working for government agency, Forestry and Land Scotland, that they were being asked to kill females, under authorisation, from 1st September.

That date was seven weeks before the start of the legal open season on October 21.

The SGA says the move puts calves, whose mothers are shot, at risk of slowly starving to death because they rely for survival on them for milk.

The green light for the country-wide policy has been authorised by Scotland’s nature body, Nature Scot, formerly Scottish Natural Heritage, who issue the licences.

The SGA said contractors and employees, who oppose the policy, contacted them because they feared that whistle blowing themselves would lead to the loss of contracts or employment.

As well as welfare concerns for dependent young, the SGA said justification for a blanket, Scotland-wide licence to kill, is questionable when forest damage by deer in September will vary greatly across sites and may only represent around six percent of the entire forest estate.

They feel Scottish Government should call a halt and issue any control authorisations, outside of the legal season, on the basis of up-to-date, localised data.

In just over one week, 5000 people including 49 in Badenoch and Strathspey have signed the open public petition, published on the SGA website.

The results have been sent to the First Minister, cabinet colleagues and cross-party politicians.

SGA Chairman, Alex Hogg said: “The petition has been signed by all sexes and ages. The majority are concerned for the welfare of dependent young.

“When the law opened up potential for authorisations to be used in this way, it was highly contested and remains so.

“Contracted deer managers are told not to pull the trigger if they can’t be certain they will not orphan a calf but, in reality, this policy means that this will happen.

"Those working in deer management, including the FLS contractors who spoke to us, know that.

“Ground vegetation is waist high just now. Calves can be easily missed. Similarly, the responsibility for identifying whether a calf belongs to a specific family group is too high.

"FLS say they observe the highest welfare standards but there is no way they can oversee everything that goes on over almost half a million hectares of Scotland.”

He continued: “After five years, trees are generally past deer damage stage. Using Scottish forestry’s own figures, only around six percent of the nation’s forests have been planted or re-stocked in the last five years, so the justification for a Scotland-wide policy for six percent of the national forest is questionable.

“Any protections deer had in Scotland are being eroded. The assessment of alternatives and prior consultation, on which such licences are normally conditional, have not been carried out."

Alastair MacGugan, NatureScot Wildlife Management manager, said farmers, crofters and foresters have always been able to shoot female deer to protect against damage.

He pointed out: "In fact, up until 2011 they were able to do this at any time of year without the need for an authorisation.

Recognising the potential welfare issues for dependent calves, they were given greater protection in 2012; now female deer may only be culled under a specific authorisation from NatureScot between 1st April to 31st August.

"These are only granted in exceptional circumstances.”

NatureScot said the dates where calves are at highest welfare risk are guided by research on birth and weaning dates.

Outside this period, land managers must meet certain conditions and operate under a general authorisation when controlling deer to protect against damage.

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