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The community crisis over deer numbers in South Uist has sparked national concern.

Scotland’s professional gamekeeping body has urged the South Uist community to carefully consider the repercussions of choosing to eradicate a species long native to the area.

On Monday March 20, community members will attend an EGM in Southend Hall in Daliburgh to vote on the single motion of eradicating all deer on the community-owned estate, numbering around 1000 animals.

However, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, which represents professional deer managers and whose members’ jobs are at risk, has called for clear-headed thinking.

The EGM vote comes in the wake of a Bornish Community Council survey of 2022 which noted significant concern amongst respondents regarding deer impacts on crofts in that area on the west side.

A deer count also showed an increase in numbers from a previous helicopter count although Stòras Uibhist, the community owned company which manages South Uist Estate, has confirmed this year’s cull has been the highest on record.

Current densities are around 3 deer per sq km, well below Scottish Government’s recommended 10 deer per sq km average nationwide target, with grazing impacts very low.

Six gamekeeping staff are employed on the 93,000 acre estate, with three deer stalker jobs immediately at risk.

Doubts have also been raised over whether the community can afford to undertake such a drastic cull which could draw finance away from other resident priorities such as affordable housing.

Sealladh na Beinne Mòire, which oversees Stòras Uibhist, has recommended that eradication should not be supported, saying it would be against ‘the best interests of the company’.

Questions have also been raised about the morality of killing off a native species, which are thought to have been present in South Uist since Neolithic times.

“The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) fully respects the rights of local communities to make their own decisions.

"However, choosing the route of exterminating a species, long native to an area, is an extreme step which will have wide-ranging repercussions. This must be carefully thought through,” said Alex Hogg, MBE, SGA Chairman. 

“Scotland has recently reintroduced some species which were formerly native. From a nature conservation perspective, or in terms of history, where would a deliberate decision to extirpate a native species sit within that?

“We have members in the community who will have to move away, if the deer herd goes. These members have children at local schools. Their jobs will be gone.

“The estate has a female headkeeper, their recent trainee won a Lantra award for land-based skills last week, and they are selling all the venison produced, locally.

“On the other hand, the SGA recognises and understands that conflicts can exist between humans and wildlife and we are sympathetic to that.

“But is this really the only way of solving the issue? Once done, it can’t be reversed.”

The motion before the EGM has asked that Sealladh na Beinne Mòire explore other opportunities for use of the land.

Stòras Uibhist made more than £20,000 from a burgeoning venison processing project last year, supplying bars, restaurants, donating to the local Food Bank and processing orders from Lewis, Skye and Barra.

Sporting activity also brings revenue and visitors annually, whilst supporting employment.

“Shooting over 1000 deer, in a welfare-conscious manner, will come at a very high financial cost to the community. That should not be underestimated,” said one of the gamekeepers, whose job could become a casualty.

“There would be the additional lost annual income from sporting visitors. It will also mean the end of the venison processing.

“The stalking/gamekeeping staff control a lot of geese and rabbits, which are really destructive to crofters' interests. That work will have to made up in other ways.”