YOUR article “Red alert - ‘Greater urgency is needed to tackle red deer numbers'” (November 30) suggests that red deer numbers are rising quickly in Scotland, yet the Scottish Natural Heritage progress report just published makes it clear that, at worst, numbers have been stable since 2000, and are almost certainly decreasing.

This is due to targeted action and changing upland priorities among a range of ownership types, including private owners, across the Highlands.

There has been a huge increase in the capacity of the deer management sector in the past five years or so, achieved at a time when public investment in our natural heritage is actually going down.

This is the essential context to understanding what is going on at the moment.

We have two major challenges going forwards.

In terms of native woodlands, we will not know if we have achieved targets under the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy for 2020 because government agencies are only looking at one issue in one part of the country, and there is no strategy or narrative covering the other issues which are used to define satisfactory condition in woodlands, the greater area of which are located outwith the red deer range.

More importantly, unless the 2007-13 £7 million Native Woods Survey of Scotland (NWSS) is repeated, we have no way of telling what the up-to-date position is.

Deer Management Groups have looked to quantify changes in their local situations, as we have been asked to do, but there has been no effort by SNH to collate or verify this information.

An additional problem is that funding has been taken from the management of existing woodlands to create new woodlands, so that if farmers and landowners want to regenerate woodlands, in most cases they have to do it at their own expense with little appreciation or thanks for that.

The other issue we have is that the environmental charities are intent on undermining progress through misrepresentation of information and false messaging.

We have to be blunt in saying this.

They have long had the opportunity to contribute to the progress that is taking place and which the SNH report acknowledges, but have chosen not to do so.

Stalkers and land managers are happy to improve their standards and communicate what they are doing, but the sniping from the sidelines is not helping us and we need to call that out.

It is time we all started to pull in the same direction for once. If we can do that, then we can go forwards together. This is a massive, ongoing and long-term commitment for everyone.

Victor Clements,

Native Woodland Advice & Executive Committee member, Association of Deer Management Groups,