More than 60 deer management groups (DMGs) have been set up voluntarily over the past 30 years. They provide opportunities for land managers and other bodies to collaborate on issues surrounding the animals, although Scottish Natural Heritage has ultimate legal responsibility for deer.
But now a Holyrood committee is to consider bringing the groups under parliamentary control amid accusations they only act in their own interests, trying to restrict the shooting of deer to sport only.
Rob Gibson, convener of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, believes that as a result the growing deer numbers damage vital environmental work such as the restoration of native tree species. Mr Gibson, SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, has prepared a paper for his committee, which is expected to launch an investigation next week.
He cited the example of last year's proposal by the wild land charity, the John Muir Trust, for a red deer cull to encourage the regeneration of native woods in its 9000-acre Quinag estate in north-west Sutherland.
Mr Gibson said: "Open hostility, personal threats and conflict were reported between supporters of traditional deer stalking and environmental workers for the poor state of the Special Area of Conservation (SAC) at Ardvar and Loch a'Mhuillinn on the southern shores of Eddrachillis Bay."
He said he had walked over the area earlier this month. "I saw how current practices in deer management are failing the biodiversity of the area. I saw the SAC, a European environmental designation in poor condition," he said.
He said the NW Sutherland Deer Management Group had backed the traditional approach of "deer stalking first with the environment trailing behind".
Speaking about DMGs, he said: "They are not statutory, nor is their code of good practice for deer management. The group meetings are rarely if ever held in public. Opinions other than those in support of traditional elite deer stalking are unwelcome."
He contrasts DMGs to district salmon fisheries boards, which had been subject to Acts of Parliament since the 1860s and are about to be made more accountable by the Scottish Government.
"I believe it is time to bring DMGs under statute and make the Code of Good Practice for Deer Management a legal entity," he said. "I consider the biodiversity of the nation is threatened without a fundamental change."
But Richard Cooke, chairman of the Association of Deer Management Groups, said the association acknowledged the equal legitimacy of all management objectives and frequently emphasised the necessity of open communication and compromise.
Conflict resolution was increasingly important but he said: "At present that process takes place under the voluntary principle and generally works well.
"The regulatory approach to deer management groups proposed by Mr Gibson would not obviate the difficulties of reconciling ecological, economic and social objectives."
But Mike Daniels, head of land management at the John Muir Trust, said: "Rob Gibson has hit the nail on the head."
Meanwhile Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management with RSPB, said the charity had long supported a statutory system for deer management to better balance the public and private interests.