THE annual red deer rut in Scotland is becoming increasingly important for the tourist industry, according to the body which promotes opportunities for sporting estates.

Many sporting estates are now offering to take tourists on "wildlife safaris" to watch the rut in September and October, in which stags are involved in fierce mating battles fighting for supremacy.

The Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group (SCSTG), which was set up in 2003 to develop the sports tourism sector, said the species had always attracted visitors, and while stalking was still a hugely popular pastime, an increasing number of people were happy to simply to watch the animals.

But campaigners say ­tourists should try to see the rut with people who don't intend to shoot the deer afterwards.

Jennifer Dunn, ­spokeswoman for the League Against Cruel Sports in Scotland, said "The League would recommend that anyone wishing to go wildlife-watching makes sure they do this with an organisation that works to conserve and protect wildlife."

The SCST works in ­partnership with several bodies including the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the Association of Deer Management Groups.

SCSTG Project Coordinator Victoria Brook said: "Stalking red deer is one of Scotland's oldest and most traditional sports and the rut one of the most spectacular events in the wildlife calendar.

"Country sports tourism brings visitors to Scotland outside of the normal tourist season and brings in over £240 million per annum to the Scottish economy. In time, this interest will help to create a better understanding of deer stalking."