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JMT deny killing missing deer

By SPP Reporter

Denial: Stuart Brooks.
Denial: Stuart Brooks.

WILDLAND charity the John Muir Trust (JMT) has come out fighting against thinly veiled allegations that it is responsible for plummeting deer numbers in north west Sutherland.

A sporting estate owner on the Assynt Peninsula last week claimed deer numbers had dropped in the area from 1419 to 881 over the 18-month period running up to November 2014.

JMT is one of the largest landowners on the peninsula, managing the 9140-acre Quinag Estate.

Tension over deer management policy has been simmering for years between JMT and neighbouring estates including Assynt Crofters’ Trust, Ardvar Estate, Middle Inver, Loch Assynt Lodge and Inchnadamph.

JMT wants to protect ancient woodland on its land from grazing deer but is refusing to erect fences round the forestry as suggested by neighbouring landowners.

Instead JMT, four years ago, asked for permission to quadruple its stag cull and shoot out of season – it is understood this was denied.

The issue has turned political with Scottish government debating whether or not it should step in and take the setting of deer cull targets out of the hands of sporting estates.

David Walker-Smith and his wife Mary Reid run Middle Inver. Ms Reid last week revealed, through a press release issued by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), the concern felt over the “missing deer”.

She stressed the loss of deer would badly impact on the local economy and said it would affect not just supposedly “rich” landowners but also crofters who make up Assynt Crofters’ Trust.

The fall in deer numbers was discovered following helicopter counts conducted by Scottish Natural Heritage, which is the body responsible for the sustainable management of deer in Scotland.

The SGA release fell short of directly blaming JMT, saying landowners did not want to “point fingers”. However the underlying implication was that JMT was to blame.

JMT chief executive Stuart Brooks has strongly denied the charity is behind the loss of the deer, and has suggested another reason for their disappearance.

He said: “We wish to put on record that John Muir Trust is not responsible for 538 missing deer between spring 2013 and autumn 2014. Our total deer cull in that period was 140.

“A more plausible explanation for the discrepancy in figures is that deer move around at different times of the year.”

And Mr Brooks added: “We make no secret of the fact we disagree with SGA on deer management. The Scottish Government has pointed out that unsustainable high deer numbers are causing damage to the natural environment, agriculture and fisheries.”

Mr Brooks said JMT was more than willing to talk to other landowners and the local community in a bid to forge better working relationships.

He said: “We have signalled our willingness to have a respectful dialogue with the Assynt crofters and others in the community with a view to working constructively together while trying to resolve our disagreements over how best to protect Ardvar woodland, an internationally designated site.

“As a conservation organisation, our members, of which there are more than 1000 in the Highlands, would expect us to stand up for the national environment.”

And, in a bid to counteract Ms Reid’s economic concerns, Mr Brooks highlighted the positive impact JMT has on the local economy.

He said: “We would point out that JMT makes a major contribution to Assynt, bringing investment far in excess of £100,000 into the area in the past year alone.

“We employ two members of staff and use two local stalkers, and hired a Lochinver based contractor to carry out two major path repair projects on Quinag and Sandwood bay worth £87,000.

“Our volunteers carry out ongoing maintenance work on Quinag which is a major asset to the community in terms of the number of visitors it attracts and we have just spent several thousand pounds producing and distributing a film showcasing the mountain to an international audience, which will further bolster visitor numbers.

“We have also invested well over £100,000 in money and employees’ time helping develop the Coigach-Assynt Living Landscape project since its inception.

“These facts demonstrate our strong commitment to the local community.”

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