Deer stalking under threat as Scotland’s cold weather continues.

The Deer Commission for Scotland (DCS) has warned thousands of deer could starve to death during one of Scotland’s coldest ever winters.

This news comes after the government agency recently sent out a letter to all deer managers in Scotland encouraging them to continue with their planned deer management targets.

“This winter has been quite exceptional and access to forage has been a major problem,” DCS’s director of deer management Robbie Kernahan said.

He added: “We are expecting substantial losses. Shooting virtually stopped in January. There are concerns estates will not be able to meet cull targets and that the stalking economy will be badly affected as well.”

Mr Kernahan said the DCS is expecting significant winter mortality this year, but it is too difficult to judge numbers yet.

“The DCS shares the concerns of deer managers about the impact this weather will have on the health of Scotland’s deer species, but we hope that the prospect of higher mortality will not prevent estates delivering on their cull targets.”

Donald Fraser, the DCS’s deer officer for the North East, said unless there is a thaw soon there will be a significant number of mortalities.

“There could be thousands. The estates are quite worried. The full effects will not be felt until the spring. A lot of the deaths will come later, as many animals will get through this period but then not have the energy and condition to survive past that.”

Robert Balfour owns the Balbirnie estate in Fife and is chairman of the Association of Deer Management Groups.

He said: “What we are talking about is natural mortality in our deer herds on a scale that will not have been seen for many years. Finding a single dead deer carcass in the hills or woods is distressing, but we know that there will be large groups of deer that have simply been unable to survive the arctic conditions.”

Mr Balfour added estate owners need to work closely with their stalkers to decide how to manage the deer: “Ultimately, each deer manager has to make their own decision for their particular circumstances, including culling deer for welfare reasons. It is unlikely that culling deer to meet cull targets is the sustainable thing to do.”

BASC’s Dr Colin Shedden said stalking conditions have been difficult for many and hind culls have been reduced.

“We agree with the DCS there has been a greater than normal natural mortality of red deer over the past few weeks. What is worrying is the fact most natural mortality in red deer occurs in March and it will be difficult for many deer to recover sufficient condition before then, especially if it is wet.”

Dr Shedden said roe have not been hit as hard: “The situation for roe deer has been mixed. Roe on lower ground and with access to shelter appear to have fared well, with does in good condition still being shot. On higher, more open ground such as the Angus Glens, the recently established hill roe populations have fared less well, with dead deer being reported from early January. For many of these populations this could have been the worst winter weather that they have experienced.”

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