The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) has warned that aggressive over-culling of deer to support reforestation and conservation in Scotland is putting rural jobs at risk.
The organisation?s allegations follow the publication of its three-year study into deer culling in Sutherland, written by experienced stalker Peter Fraser.
Mr Fraser said: ?Scotland is laying its greatest wildlife assets to waste without considering the consequences. And it may be too late to prevent the devastation from being permanent in some places.?
?Overambitious and ill-conceived forestry or conservation projects are the longest-running culprits, and carnage continues to be carried out in numerous locations in the name of protecting unfenced natural regeneration.?
Duncan Orr-Ewing, chairman of the LINK Deer Task Force, which brings together RSPB Scotland, the John Muir Trust, National Trust for Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, refuted the SGA?s claims.
He said: ?On our properties, we recognise that deer species are a valuable part of the natural heritage, and maintain their populations at levels appropriate to the conservation of other species and habitats.?
However, Mr Orr-Ewing?s assertion that ?there is increasing agreement on what needs to be done to manage deer populations sustainably? sits awkwardly with the results of last year?s independent review into deer management at the National Trust for Scotland?s Mar Lodge Estate.
That review found that deer culling levels on the estate were unsustainable, and that ?actual sporting numbers? would decline rapidly if culls continued at current levels.
Trust chairman, Sir Kenneth Calman, said at the time: ?We accept that there are things which could have been done better ? there are obviously new ways of working to consider and improvements to be made.?