Crofters on the North Assynt Estate are at loggerheads with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) over its threat to invoke an order allowing marksmen to be sent in to cull deer

Crofters on the North Assynt Estate, which covers 21,300 acres of coastal land north of Lochinver, are at loggerheads with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) over its threat to invoke, for the first time in Scottish history, an order that would allow marksmen to be sent in to cull deer against the estate management’s wishes.

The estate was purchased by the Assynt Crofters Trust in the early 90s, helped in part by a donation from SNH; however, a conflict has now arisen due to long-standing concerns about ancient woodland on the Sutherland estate, which conservationists are worried is unable to regenerate de to high numbers of red deer grazing there.

The Assynt Crofters argue that deer numbers are vital for generating income for the estate, and that several inconsistencies in SNH officials’ motives for invoking the order make it an unnecessary move.

The board of SNH has now made a final offer of a Section 7 (or “voluntary” agreement) to reduce deer numbers on the estate, along with an ultimatum that if the Section 7 is not agreed within a month, a Section 8 order will be invoked, allowing SNH to take action against the estate’s wishes. The orders are taken from The Deer Act (Scotland) 1996.

Speaking to The Scottish Farmer, Assynt Crofters Trust chairman, Donald MacLeod said: “SNH is a quango gone mad and we are certainly not going to sign any Section 7. We don’t have much income on this estate. The stalking creates a few jobs and people stay in the bed and breakfasts. It doesn’t make much money but an estate like this needs every penny.

“We’re fencing off the woodland to keep the deer off – that is all in progress. But it’s still not good enough for SNH. This is just the start of our fight.”

The Trust has also written an open letter to the SNH board, detailing facts they felt had not been relayed to the board by SNH. It makes very interesting reading. You can read the letter by clicking on the PDF above.