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A national charity has reacted angrily to claims it left butchered deer carcasses within 50 yards of a public footpath on land near Fort William.
The John Muir Trust (JMT), a conservation charity dedicated to protecting and enhancing wild places, was responding to a press release issued by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), which accused it of leaving dead deer in public view in the JMT-owned Nevis Gorge area last month.
Alerted by a ‘horrified dog walker’, the SGA also issued photographs of the carcasses taken within sight of Steall Bothy.
‘The lady (dog walker) didn’t want publicity but she was very upset and asked that we look into it because she loves seeing deer. She was basically disgusted,’ said SGA chairman Alex Hogg.
‘The area is well visited and what surprised her most was that this was the last thing she thought she would find in an area owned by a nature conservation charity.’
The SGA statement continued: ‘The SGA has ruled out poaching due to the way the deer have been butchered, and understands the cull will have been part of the charity’s deer management activity.’
But the John Muir Trust is adamant that neither it nor its deer stalking contractors left the carcasses in public view.
David Balharry, JMT chief executive said: ‘We can verify this with documentary evidence if necessary.
‘One of our contractors notified us on Sunday January 31 that on the previous day he had been surprised to see seven carcasses laid out near the public footpath. He and his colleagues had culled these deer several weeks earlier on January 4, and left them higher on the hillside after removing as much venison as possible.
‘On discovering the carcasses had been located to a more visible location he proceeded to remove them from public sight.
‘On reading the report from our contractor, we were curious as to why these carcasses had been dragged from the hillside and grouped closely together, which appeared to be for the purpose of a photo opportunity.
‘It is disappointing but not surprising that two weeks later, these images have found their way to the press.
‘We note that this story has emerged just as the Scottish Government is about to announce its response to the report of the Independent Deer Working, which has proposed major changes to deer management in Scotland for the benefit of nature, local communities and climate.’
Bill Cowie of the SGA Deer Group is urging members of the public to contact their MSP’s if they come across any discarded carcases.
‘Every few years these things seem to happen on John Muir Trust ground. It is not isolated, sadly,’ he said.
‘Regarding the deer in the photographs, there may have been some access problems extracting them from one side, but it is known there is access out from the other. Do the public really want to see this when taking daily exercise?’
JMT argues that it is impossible to get an ATV through the steep gorge and it is not possible to remove carcasses to the east, because of protected peatland.
The charity is not prepared to use helicopters, which means its contractors remove venison from carcasses on the hillside and leave the remainder for raptors and other scavengers as part of an arrangement with NatureScot.
‘We believe this model of deer control will, in the future, allow greater community access to venison,’ added Mr Balharry.