A Scottish conservation charity has backed a government proposal which could see a strengthening of laws to force landowners to cull deer.
The Pitlochry-based John Muir Trust said the country’s biodiversity needs urgent protection from damage caused by high deer numbers.
They are welcoming proposal 10 in the Scottish Government’s consultation on the future of land reform in Scotland.
Among a package of measures to reform land ownership and use, the paper calls for Scottish Natural Heritage to be given new powers to “require that landowners have in place detailed sustainable deer management plans that protect the public interest and that the plans are fully carried out”.
The new powers would underpin the current voluntary system, as a backstop to be used if the voluntary arrangements fail to deliver the 2020 biodiversity targets.
Mike Daniels, the John Muir Trust’s head of land and science, said: “We warmly welcome this proposal from the Scottish Government to take action to protect what remains of our native woodland.
“For the benefit of a tiny minority, much of our upland environment is bare, degraded and impoverished as a result of overgrazing by deer.
“Many sporting estates have not just allowed, but encouraged deer numbers to escalate to unsustainable levels, which are harmful both to our ecosystem and to the wellbeing of the deer themselves. This is a chance to halt and reverse two centuries of destruction.”
Richard Cook, chairman of the association of deer management groups, said legislation compelling landowners to cull the animals was already in place, but the proposal aimed to clarify and strengthen it.
He said: “It’s a fall-back power to allow Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to intervene where the deer management in the area is not delivering the public interest.
“There is some doubt as to whether the current legislation is effective, so I think clarification I desirable.
“I am confident that the deer management across the great majority of the Highlands is increasingly effective … I am confident that the power will be the ultimate sanction, which won’t apply if people are doing their job properly.”