POLICE have been called into a row over an out-of-season deer cull in the North West Highlands.

It comes after claims that a botched killing left an animal suffering unnecessarily for five days.

According to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) the stag was found near the Quinag Estate in Sutherland with its jaw "hanging off".

However, the John Muir Trust (JMT), which has the licence from NatureScot for the out-of-season cull and night shooting, has denied any involvement. 

READ MORE: Competing interest groups take up arms over deer shooting

It is the latest development in a decade long public row over the management of the animals.

The Assynt Crofters' Trust (ACT) has described the cull as “gratuitous.” They claim it will have a “direct, long-lasting and detrimental effect” on neighbouring properties that rely on deer to make an income from stalking.

They are even “considering the feasibility of joining a community buyout of the mountain of Quinag from the John Muir Trust.”

The Herald:

However, the conservation group say the cull is necessary to increase the native tree cover in Scotland’s uplands to help restore degraded peatlands and tackle the climate emergency

In a lengthy statement posted online yesterday, the charity said deer were preventing the “restoration of healthy habitats by devouring burgeoning new habitats, from tree saplings to grasslands, montane scrub and heather.” 

The JMT said the peatlands on the estate “act like giant power stations” emitting almost 5,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.

The charity said the Quinag has the “potential to go far beyond net zero to become a major carbon sink, removing and storing huge quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

This, they add, could be worth £175,000 a year. 

The JMT claims opposition to the cull comes mainly from private estates where people pay a small fortune to hunt deer. They said crofters are opposed to the cull because of the "pressure that bears down upon them from surrounding sporting estates."

In their statement, the JMT said the debate over deer culls is "not new or unique."

"Organisations and individuals representing private sport shooting estates have a long history of intemperate outrage whenever serious efforts have been undertaken by public and charity organisations to reduce deer densities for ecological restoration.

“Emotive headlines replete with terms such as ‘carnage’, ‘killing fields’, ‘bloodbath’ and ‘massacre’ have been frequently bandied about, with no sense of irony, by those whose business is trophy hunting.”

READ MORE: Glencanisp Lodge: First estate buyout turns to the private sector to make cash

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association claim there have been a number of “animal welfare breaches” ever since the JMT was awarded the out-of-season licence. 

They say the stag must have been shot by the JMT as “they are the only body in the area legally allowed to shoot deer at the moment.”


The injured deer was spotted heading away from Quinag and then near the Allt na Claise burn.

“We are a quiet community, here. People understand deer management," said Michael Ross, the SGA member who, along with six others tracked and dispatched the animal.

"No one is saying mistakes won’t ever be made but it is a fundamental of best practice and welfare that, if a deer is wounded, you alert your neighbours and follow that animal until it is humanely despatched.

“No one from here wounded that deer. There are no reports of poaching locally.

"John Muir Trust is the only body around this area with a licence to be shooting deer out of season and at night at this time of the year.”

The Herald: Assynt crofters "prepared to go to jail" over deer cull

The site of the row was the first big land buyout in Scotland where wealthy owners were forced to sell to the community.

The Assynt Foundation used £4 million of taxpayer, charity and lottery cash to buy the vast Glencanisp and Drumrunie estates from former owners, the Vestey meat millionaires. 

It is not the first time there have been tensions over deer numbers. 

READ MORE: Assynt crofters "prepared to go to jail" over deer cull

In 2017, members of ACT told The Herald there were willing to go to jail over a planned cull. 

In a statement on their website, ACT hit out at the cull: "The working people of Assynt live in a fragile economic area where all seasonal and rural activities contribute financially to keep them and their families living in the area.

"When concerns were raised to the deer group and [NatureScot] about the impact the out of season and night shooting would have, the JMT response was to leave the deer group and end any meaningful communication with their neighbours, and to carry on regardless of people's thoughts and fears on this situation."

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “We have received a report that a deer was injured within an estate in the Assynt area of Sutherland in January 2023.

“Information received with regards to the incident is currently being assessed by officers.”