Less than two weeks since Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) agreed on funding for Mar Lodge, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) estate, on Royal Deeside, its £250,000 grant has been withheld.

In the agreement between SNH and NTS, one of the latter?s key objectives was to promote the sporting use of the estate and create a model, ecologically sustainable grouse moor. At the time the grant was agreed, NTS defended its promotion of fieldsports, saying: The concept of an ecologically sustainable, model grouse moor requires ensuring the right balances are struck between ecological diversity and land management. The right management can substantially increase the diversity of all sorts of wildlife to be found on these moors, including red grouse.

NTS corporate communications officer John Hollingsworth told ST that funding had been withheld pending a meeting with SNH in April. ?We?ve received funding from the SNH for many years and are awaiting a decision,? he said. ?We don?t really know the reason. Funding for Mar Lodge isn?t entirely from SNH ? it has given us grants, of which this would have been a part. We?re looking forward to working with SNH on whatever issues they raise. The issue with the grouse moor is part of a large management plan and there

are much wider issues under consideration. We are waiting for confirmation from SNH as to what its concerns are.?

SNH spokesman Fergus MacNeill told ST: ?Grouse and deer shoots have taken place on Mar Lodge since NTS acquired the property and remain an element of the estate?s management today. We acknowledge that the management of sporting interests ? where they do not conflict with conservation interests or access legislation ? can benefit the estate and the local community.?

A five-year funding plan will be discussed at the April meeting, when SNH hopes to draw on research carried out into the conservation benefits of effective game management. Staff are working to put in place a number of key performance indicators to give some insight into how effectively money is being spent in certain areas of the estate. The results of these indicators will have some impact on the payment plan for the estate.

Ron Macdonald, SNH head of advisory services, said: ?We will soon be meeting with NTS to complete the work required to enable our board to consider approving the NTS management plan for Mar Lodge estate for the years 2006 to 2011, and the associated SNH funding package.?