Deer protesters in South Uist have hit back at claims from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association - which has called their proposal to eliminate the deer population “an extreme step which will have wide-ranging repercussions.”
They reject the claim that the deer are a native species at all, saying they were introduced from the Isle of Rum in 1975, with more recent introductions of bloodlines from Kingussie, Mar Lodge and Sussex. They say there were no deer in South Uist for at least 200 years prior to 1975.
One protester said: "To be frank, I think it is astonishing that the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, who are experts on deer, should indulge in such a blatant distortion, even suggesting a connection to Neolithic times."
The association claims current deer densities "are around 3 deer per sq km, well below Scottish Government’s recommended 10 deer per sq km average nationwide target, with grazing impacts very low."
But the campaigners say the present count of 1200 gives a deer density of 3.5 deer per km2, but only if all the 93,000 acres of the estate are included. However, this includes all the townships, crofts and machair land which should be free of deer, as well as areas like Eriskay unaffected by deer. The density jumps to 7 to 8 deer per km² if this land is taken out of the equation.
"While this figure is below the 10 per km2 that has been used as a maximum density in the past, Nature Scot has confirmed that they now focus more on the impact of deer. Grazing impacts are far from low, as is evidenced by the Bornish survey which revealed that 75% of households, many of them crofters, had been adversely affected by the deer. This was based on a response rate of some 80% of all households in the Middle District of South Uist.
A deer density of 2 to 3 per km² now considered essential to enable environmental regeneration. So environmental regeneration can only happen at much lower stocking densities than at present, say protesters.
The new Biodiversity Strategy that the Scottish Government is proposing states clearly, “Ever-increasing deer numbers restrict natural regeneration, habitat restoration and undermine replanting efforts.
The campaigners also reject the claim that the cull puts "three deer stalker jobs immediately at risk". They say the total income from stalking and venison totals no more than £45,000 a year, which does not even cover the wages and costs of two of the gamekeepers.
Moreover, rather than generating income for the community, the deer impose significant costs of damage and prevention on householders (e.g loss of grazing and crops, medication and fencing, etc.), meaning that the stalking is in fact subsidised by the wider community.
The motion at the Extraordinary General Meeting of Sealladh na Beinne Mòire, the communist landowner, on Monday March 20 explicitly calls for "finding other viable alternative uses and employment opportunities for the land presently occupied by deer. These alternative land management uses should be in accordance with the stated Stòras Uibhist mission of representing their members and community, of facilitating the provision of environmentally conscious projects in line with community needs and in supporting biodiversity.”
Those backing the motion point out that the deer count by helicopter revealed there were twice as many deer, around 1200, as the estate thought there were.
They also reject the gamekeepers association claim that "doubts have also been raised over whether the community can afford to undertake such a drastic cull which could draw finance away from other resident priorities such as affordable housing."
Urging caution, the Gamekeepers Association has called for “clear-headed thinking” before the issue goes to the vote at the forthcoming EGM.
“The Scottish Gamekeepers Association fully respects the rights of local communities to make their own decisions. However, choosing the route of exterminating a species long native to an area is an extreme step which will have wide-ranging repercussions. This must be carefully thought through,” said Alex Hogg, MBE, SGA Chairman.