Forestry and Land Scotland, the government agency responsible for much of the country’s forestry, has stirred considerable controversy over its decision to authorise a cull of red deer hinds which began on September 1.
Although legal under authorisations from NatureScot, the cull opened seven weeks ahead of the normal season and, according to objectors, including the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), it puts dependent calves at risk of starvation.
SGA has organised a petition asking Scottish Government to halt the cull.
Alex Hogg, SGA chairman, said: “Many people will have signed this petition because of concerns for the welfare of dependent young deer which could starve to death if their mothers are shot and they, themselves, survive.
“At this time, some youngsters – particularly late ones – will depend on the mothers for survival.
“Although best practice dictates that young should be shot before the mother, this will not always happen.
"It places a big responsibility upon individual deer managers. In September, vegetation is waist high. Young are easily camouflaged and can be missed. Similarly, it can be difficult to identify which calf belongs to which mother or family group."
Mr Hogg also pointed to the financial incentives offered to contractors and the suggestion they were being rewarded simply on numbers culled, rather than on selection.
Additionally, it seems game dealers will not collect culled calves simply because they are too small to have any value.
A spokesperson for Forestry and Land Scotland said: “Our approach to deer management is fully compliant with the law, is recognised as best practice and is backed by data on increasing deer populations and impacts derived both from our own extensive surveys and the recent independent deer working group report that cited an imminent total deer population in Scotland of one million.
“Additional culling is therefore required to protect young trees and halt losses in biodiversity. At any one time on Scotland’s national forests and land there are between 75m and 100m trees vulnerable to damage from deer, representing millions of pounds of investment in public forests.
“We are absolutely committed to the highest standards of welfare for all animals, including deer.”