GAMEKEEPERS have said they are "sickened" after Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) sanctioned a second "unjustified" taxpayer-funded cull of deer.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said it is considering withdrawing from the nation's codes for human deer control that it helped develop because of plans of a continued cull in the nation's forests.

FLS wants to have hinds shot to control deer numbers and to protect young trees from damage caused by the animals' grazing.

It comes after it emerged that FLS carried out a cull of almost 1,300 deer in a month, including hundreds of juveniles, some just a few months old last year.

FLS has said the cull was licensed and would help protect woodland that was being regenerated as a response to the climate emergency.

FLS said deer numbers across Scotland had doubled to almost a million from 500,000 in 1990, and culls were necessary to control numbers in the interests of forestry and also the health of deer populations, but this figure has been questioned by the SGA.

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SGA said gamekeepers were angry at the "disrespect" being shown to deer seasons, and claimed last year's cull had been "mis-directed" to open hill areas without trees.

Chairman Alex Hogg said: “We are proud of our five years of work in developing best practice in Scotland. These guidelines need to evolve and we appreciate that.

“But our members are questioning why our name should be on future codes when the direction of travel, within public bodies, appears to be to kill deer, day or night, in-season or not."

September culling, which is widely practised by land managers, is licensed by NatureScot and is being carried out following discussion with stakeholders, including Scottish Environment Link and the Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG), which accepts such actions are sometimes necessary to protect woodland from damage.

Ian Fergusson, the FLS head of wildlife management, said: “The total number of all four deer species across Scotland is now estimated to be around 1million and our surveys show deer population levels ranging from four deer per km² to as high as 64 deer per km² in some areas.

"A widely accepted sustainable population balance for woodlands and biodiversity protection is between two-seven deer per km².

“The current high levels of deer numbers pose a particular threat to establishing young trees and areas of forest regeneration which are a vital part of Scotland’s response to the climate emergency.

"It can also be ruinous to biodiversity projects and also poses a threat to the overall health of the herd, which in winter could struggle to find enough food and may result in many animals suffering a slow death from starvation.

“As responsible land managers of a significant area of Scotland’s forests and land, we have to act and achieving the necessary balance within the deer population is something that can only realistically be attained through culling.”

This story originally appeared in the Herald.

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