The target was made a decade ago to deal with damage to habitat and alpine plants from deer, but many believe the deer cull targets are now out of date.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is intending to honour the target of 19 deer per km2 by putting pressure on estates that have failed to meet it.

An out-of-season licence is in place until the end of February to allow estates to complete their culls.

But Mr Fraser believes the figures should be re-examined and a new agreement reached.

He said: “While some estates have failed to deliver the target, killing nearly 700 deer in three weeks raises serious welfare issues. If this was to go ahead, the Government would be laying itself open to criticism of committing a wildlife crime.”

He added: “Due to snow, the deer have been pulled down off the high tops and their movement has been greatly restricted. They will be in large groups and the same deer will be targeted over and over again with little respite, placing them under conditions of insufferable stress over a prolonged period.”

In a statement, SNH said: The deer management group in the Angus Glens area is made up of local landowners and partners. It has agreed a sustainable herd density of 19 deer per square kilometre.

All local estates have signed up to this work under a section seven agreement.

At 20 deer per square kilometre the Caenlochan area has higher deer densities than the majority of sporting estates in Scotland.

The Scottish and UK Governments could face legal action if the condition of these protected areas, which are in poor condition, are not met.

We are aware of potential welfare issues with culling hinds in heavy snow and for those estates, which may be shooting deer until the end of February.

Our advice has been to cull selectively and humanely following best practice.

We have worked with estates to reduce the impact of deer on the protected areas, forestry and agricultural interests while maintaining rural sporting businesses.

Over the past five years, we have invested a significant amount of taxpayers’ money, staff and resources.

We will continue to monitor habitats and deer populations to help us make informed decisions.

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