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An upcoming community vote could see the complete eradication of South Uist’s deer, the loss of jobs, and the end of a blossoming venison processing project.
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Scotland’s professional gamekeeping body – the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) – has urged the South Uist community to carefully consider the repercussions of choosing to eradicate a species long native to the area.
On March 20, community members will attend an EGM in Southend Hall to vote on the single motion of eradicating all deer on the community-owned estate, numbering around 1,000 animals. Six gamekeeping staff are employed on the 93,000 acre estate, with three deer stalker jobs immediately at risk if the motion is passed.
The EGM vote comes in the wake of a 2022 Bornish Community Council survey, 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 Storas Uibhist (the community-owned company which manages South Uist Estate) has confirmed that this year’s cull has been the highest on record.
Current densities in the area are around three deer per sq km – well below Scottish Government’s recommended 10 deer per sq km average nationwide target, with grazing impacts very low.
Alongside the impact on jobs, doubts have 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 Moire, which oversees Storas Uibhist, has recommended that eradication should not be supported, saying it would be against ‘the best interests of the company’.
Native since the Neolithic era
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.
Alex Hogg, Chairman of the SGA, said: “The Scottish Gamekeepers Association 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.
“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 Head Keeper, 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 Moire explore other opportunities for use of the land.
Storas Uibhist made over £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.”
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Wildfowlers are used to making the most of the conditions, and when it comes to conservation, Kent Wildfowling and Conservation Association has the same approach.
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