Young deer in Scotland could starve to death if their mothers are shot as part of a “controversial” new policy, according to a professional body.
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) has criticised the move which they say has been brought to their attention by deer management contractors working for Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS).
The government agency has said contracted deer managers and employed rangers can apply for licences to shoot female red and roe deer in Scotland’s forests from September 2, weeks before the start of the legal open season on October 21.
The SGA suggests mothers, which are still heavy with milk, will be killed under authorisation and leave their orphaned youngsters dying through starvation unless they are also shot.
Game dealers refuse to take venison carcasses under a certain weight with the SGA adding it is likely any shot young calves would be left in the forests.
West Highland head stalker Lea MacNally, from the SGA Deer Group, called it “a national disgrace”.
He said: “Those who approached us are conflicted. They are working people.
“They need money, like all of us, but they respect deer and believe this is wrong.
“Spotted calves, whose mothers are shot, will die slowly from starvation, unless they are also culled.
“There won’t even be a use for the carcass because the calves are so small. They are not viable.
“We really hope the Greens and the animal rights parties take this on.”
The FLS said all rangers and contractors “understand the need” to cull any dependant youngsters before the mothers.
According to the SGA the contractors who contacted them say, although a delay in deer management will be blamed on coronavirus, the policy change was mooted before the pandemic.
“The whole wildlife management issue in Scotland at the moment stinks,” Mr McNally added.
“We would like to know who sanctioned this policy of cruelty to an iconic species and ask whether they consulted the Scottish people.”
SGA vice chairman, Peter Fraser said: “If the Scottish public really knew the persecution and cruelty endured by Scotland’s deer population they would be appalled.”
Mark Ruskell MSP said: “Scottish Government agencies should follow best practice, so if these allegations are credible then they should be investigated.”
An FLS spokesman said: “FLS has applied for and received authorisation from NatureScot for the culling of female deer during close season on unenclosed land under the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 (as amended) and also operate under the general licence for enclosed land.
“This authorisation issued by NatureScot is widely used by other forest managers to prevent damage by deer and is issued subject to adherence with best practice guidance found on the Wild Deer Best Practice Partnership website.
“Earlier this year FLS openly discussed the matter of out of season authorisations with stakeholders including with the Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG) who helped communicate our approach and confirmed their support for it.
“All FLS rangers and contractors understand the need to cull young dependants first before any mothers. All deer controllers understand that if there is any doubt about dependants then they are instructed not to cull female deer.
“We fully recognise that deer control is a difficult and very sensitive subject which arouses strong differences of view and some will find the process unacceptable.
“Nonetheless FLS follows Scottish Government policy, has the consent of the licensing authority Nature Scot and follows best practice in implementation.”
ADMG chairman Richard Cooke said FLS informed them of the move to allow early culls at a meeting earlier this year.
He said: “While this will be unpalatable to many in the deer sector the law allows it in order to protect forestry investment and we emphasised the necessity that it be carried out in accordance with best practice and in particular that care must be taken to avoid the orphaning of dependent calves.”