A conservation body has unveiled a controversial vision for the better management of Scotland’s upland areas, to reverse decline in important habitats.

But it has been criticised by those working on sporting estates for advocating mandatory deer management, which would mean more being shot.

Almost half (44%) of Scotland’s land area is classed as upland, including peatland, heather moorland and native woods, some of which is under threat according to the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT).

The SWT says that between the 1940s and 2007, heather moorland was reduced by over 20%, due mainly to afforestation, conversion to rough grassland and an increase in the extent of bracken.

“This loss of moorland was driven largely by historic increases in sheep grazing levels” associated with subsidies from national and EU public funds.

But it was also affected by “an increase in wild deer numbers, poorly managed muirburn and increased drainage, all of which encouraged the growth of grasses over heather.”

The charity recommends ten key changes needed to better protect the uplands in the future.

These include reforming subsidy regimes for upland sheep and cattle farming to encourage low stocking densities and ‘agro-forestry’ systems; and encouraging the development of wildlife-rich ‘transition zones’ for which landowners would be financially rewarded.

It proposes licensing “driven upland grouse moor management in order to encourage more sustainable management practices.”

But it is the section on deer which is most controversial, with the recommendation to:

“Introduce mandatory management, monitoring and reporting of wild deer densities for landowners to ensure deer populations and densities are managed at truly sustainable levels.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) said that while SWT was calling for regulation of deer management, it should look to how it manages deer on its own reserves.

He said a Freedom of Information in April had shown that Scottish Natural Natural Heritage (SNH) had not held deer cull information for the SWT reserve at Largiebaan on Kintyre for the last four years.

He continued “Loch Ardinning (near Milngavie) another SWT reserve, has shown no cull returns from 2012-2013 onwards."

Alan Anderson, SWT Head of Wildlife Reserves for Scottish Wildlife Trust said in response to SGA the trust had made some excellent progress bringing high deer numbers down on its 120 wildlife reserves in recent years.

He said he was puzzled why the FOI showed no cull return Largiebaan "so we will be looking into this."

Meanwhile Richard Cooke, Chairman, the Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG), which represents estates and other landholdings, said:

“Yet again we have one of the environmental NGOs calling for more regulation for deer management in the knowledge that the recently passed Land Reform (Scotland) Act has given SNH additional powers to intervene. "