Scottish Government has said welfare of country's deer is paramount in cull row
Get a digital copy of the Strathspey Herald delivered straight to your inbox every week
The Scottish Government has said it is committed to the highest standard of welfare for deer after claims a cull on publicly owned land could leave many orphaned calves.
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has presented a 5000-strong public petition to Nicola Sturgeon demanding the culling of female deer later this month be halted.
The SGA said it 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 claims the move puts calves, whose mothers are shot, at risk of slowly starving to death because they rely for survival on them for milk.
It 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.
But a Scottish Government spokesperson said: "The Scottish Government is committed to the highest standards of welfare for all animals, including deer.
"Managing deer is necessary to reduce the ecological damage they can cause and protect young trees – which is imperative in helping to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises.
“Those undertaking deer management must have relevant training and must comply with best practice.
“Out-of-season authorisations are a regular and necessary part of deer management for many landowners throughout Scotland and have been used for a number of years.
"For 2018/19 Forestry and Land Scotland, which only culls deer on the land that it manages, held only 11 of the 254 out of season authorisations issued by NatureScot.
"During the period when young deer are at highest risk out-of-season authorisations are only granted in exceptional circumstances.
“FLS’s approach is evidence-led and uses annual surveys of crop damage and habitat impacts from deer to prioritise deer management on the most vulnerable areas of land.
“A substantial number of Scotland’s main land management organisations both recognise the need for on-going control of deer populations and acknowledge that FLS delivers first class deer management to the highest standards.”