A cull of red deer is to be carried out on the Highland estate of an ‘absentee’ landlord to protect the environment and sites of special scientific interest. 

Scottish Government body NatureScot has used its intervention powers to order the cull at the Loch Choire Estate in East Sutherland. 

The move comes after repeated attempts were made to get the landowner to manage deer herds during the past several years, or find alternative solutions. 

The Estate was purchased in 2015 by an owner believed to be based in the Shropshire area, though they have not been named by NatureScot. 

Stalkers have been allowed to enter the estate to shoot deer after the owner failed to respond to a formal request under section 10(2) of the Act to carry out a proportionate and timely cull. 


A red deer stag 

The agency said that red deer are having a “significant” impact on peatlands, woodlands and other habitats in the area, a large proportion of which is covered by protected area designations.  

This includes four Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) wholly or partly falling on the estate’s land. In recent years, little or no culling has taken place on the estate causing concern over growing deer numbers.  

READ MORE: Young deer could starve if mothers shot, gamekeepers warn

Culls are based on target density per square kilometre. NatureScot undertook a helicopter count of the Loch Choire Estate and surrounding ground in November last year.

This returned a density estimate of 13 deer per km2 for Loch Choire Estate and 12.9 deer per km2 for the overall area counted - with the target being 7.5.

The vast estate covers an area of 50 square miles, equivalent to 129 square kilometres. So far, it is understood 12 animals have been culled. 

Donald Fraser, NatureScot’s Head of Wildlife Management, said: “While deer are an iconic species and form an important part of our biodiversity, their high numbers and lack of natural predators mean that they can have a negative impact on peatlands, woodlands and other habitats. 

“Sustainable deer management is vital if we are to bring populations in balance with nature and effectively tackle the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change

“While we always favour a voluntary and collaborative approach to deer management, NatureScot will not hesitate to make use of the full range of powers available to us when necessary, to secure vital benefits for nature and climate. 

“We put welfare at the heart of all our wildlife management decisions and all culling by our qualified and authorised staff is carried out to the highest standards of professionalism and best practice.” 

Sir Michael Wigan, Chairman of the local East Sutherland Deer Management Group, said: “The Deer Management Group is supportive of NatureScot’s approach here due to the lack of this estate’s efforts to manage deer populations on the property and the need for local collaboration, which is important for effective and sustainable upland red deer management.” 


The Association of Deer Management Groups has also expressed support for this action. Duncan Orr-Ewing, Chair of Scottish Environment LINK's Deer Group, said: “We fully support this responsible action by NatureScot.  

READ MORE: 'Managing Scotland's deer is vital to tackle climate and biodiversity crises'

“In the context of the climate and nature emergencies, sustainable deer management - carried out humanely by expert stalkers - is required to reduce deer populations in some areas. Full cooperation by all relevant landowners is required to help deliver the public interest.”