Recent incidents of what appears to be out-of-season deer culling on the Isle of Skye must not become Scotland’s standard of deer management, gamekeepers have warned.
Photographs have emerged on Facebook showing dead hinds inside a new forestry enclosure at Dunvegan, on the MacLeod Estate.
One image shows a large, unborn calf lying beside its shot mother and a second post shows another dead hind found just 1,000 yards away.
The scenes have angered local people on social media, with one man who did not wish to be identified telling the PA news agency: “Shooting out of season is wrong and disgusting. The Government is wrong to hand out licences to do these culls.
“To get a few deer out of a gate isn’t like a few sheep with your dog… but trying to get a few deer out of a newly fenced off huge area is very, very hard.”
It is understood the fenced enclosure is part of a £1 million native woodland creation project on the estate which has caused tension in the community.
A spokesman for the MacLeod Estate told PA: “The MacLeod Estate and its team takes its deer management responsibilities very seriously and the only culling authorised and undertaken this year has been in accordance with the regulations and in permitted areas.”
Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg said the organisation is urging the Scottish Government not to sanction changes which will “make this type of deer management the standard in Scotland”.
He said: “We are not going to enter into speculation as to what has happened here.
“What we do know is that one image clearly shows a female, with a very large unborn calf, which has obviously been culled weeks outside of the legal open season.
“Judging by online comments, this is not the type of deer management the people of Skye want to see, climate emergency or not, and we have warned Scottish Government about this very issue before.
“Deer need to be managed and, in certain circumstances, that has to take place outside of the approved seasons, under authorisation from NatureScot.
“However, the Govt-commissioned Deer Working Group Report recommends doubling the female culling seasons, as a new normal in Scotland, without the need for such authorisations.
“These seasons were hard won and put in place to protect females from being culled in September. September culls increase the risk of dependent calves starving to death in public forests.”
He added the seasons were also put in place to avoid culling females when they are so heavily pregnant in April when their calves could almost stand by themselves.
But a spokeswoman for NatureScot, the country’s nature agency, said no such culling licence has been issued on the island this year.
She said: “The law does not permit the culling of female deer over one year old between April 1 and August 31 unless special authorisation has been obtained from NatureScot as the licensing authority.
“No such licences have been issued on Skye this year.
“NatureScot takes animal welfare extremely seriously. We have been in contact with Police Scotland regarding this issue and will work with the police as they look into this.”
Culling authorisations are said to only be issued in extreme circumstances with evidence it would be in the public interest.
Kate Forbes, the SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, told PA: “Although I don’t know all the details, this image is pretty sickening.
“I think the Scottish Gamekeepers Association is right to condemn the culling of this, or any other, pregnant female deer so late on in the season.
“It has understandably angered local residents, and as the local representative I will do my best to understand what has happened.”