Letter regarding injured deer found at Ardvar
As far as we are concerned, the most worrying aspect of the episode involving the stag which was found with an injured leg and its jaw shot off on Ardvar ground last week is not the fact that the animal died a hard death, although it undoubtedly did. Neither is it the fact that it took several people several days to find, and dispatch, the poor beast because of the rough, wooded nature of the terrain.
The single most worrying aspect is that JMT refused absolutely even to countenance the fact that they might have been responsible. No evidence points to us, they claimed. It was definitely not us, they claimed. We are so upset that this has happened that we want to involve the police, they said.
But consider the context. JMT stalkers are the only people legally permitted to be shooting stags at this time of year on the Assynt Peninsula. Anyone at all familiar with stalking knows that accidents do happen and that, occasionally, an animal may not be killed cleanly. Usually, when this happens, the animal is quickly tracked, and shot. When even this doesn’t happen, and the injured animal disappears, the convention is for the stalker concerned to alert the neighbours so that they, in their turn, can do the necessary.
JMT stalkers are the only people legally permitted to be shooting deer in the hours of darkness on the Assynt Peninsula. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if accidents can happen during daylight, they are more likely to happen in the dark, even with thermal imaging.
It is extremely unlikely that it was the work of poachers. JMT stalkers are on Quinag at night, as are keepers from neighbouring estates, monitoring the ongoing carnage. It’s an unusually busy place at the moment – far too busy for poachers. It has been argued that, perhaps, JMT’s ‘enemies’ contrived this bad publicity by deliberately shooting a stag in this way but you would have to ask yourself first if they were capable of doing so and, secondly, why they didn’t ensure that the animal was found on JMT ground.
It seems patently obvious that, at the very least, the JMT stalkers might have been responsible. For them to so vociferously deny this fact, to argue that they were categorically and 100% not responsible suggests that there is a problem here. What type of person can claim to be that sure? Not someone licenced to kill deer in the dark, you might hope.
Sport & Game Committee
Assynt Crofters' Trust
Assynt - a political football?
The “one glove fits all” policy of JMT with their staunch stance against fencing is, we believe, more a political agenda rather than a beneficial environmental one.
The JMT is a donation funded organisation, so they don't need to worry about creating an income and will be secure in the knowledge of receiving a wage.
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 NS 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.
The CEO himself travelled long distances along with his hired guns from the east to start an indiscriminate slaughter of all deer day and night, with no thought for the well being of the animals, many being wounded and left to die in a horrible state that has now been documented.
JMT's attitude and total disregard of the feelings and worries of the people of Assynt seems to be more akin to some land owners narrow minded elitist ways of the past.
A Scottish government minister once said he wants to see lights on in the glens once more. Well with NS's unquestionable support of JMT's actions then it is more than likely that lights will be switched off.
How many voices in rural Scotland are going unheard due to the actions of this unelected government quango?
From Ledmore to the sea all land owners bar one have over the years protected their native woodlands and also created extensive new ones. The birch woodland that JMT profess to want to protect is 95% on Ardvar and Assynt Crofters Trust land, and has been deemed to be in favourable and regenerating condition. JMT's constant narrative over the years has been that these woodlands are in decline, could there be a political or financial motive here again?
The other woodland they say they are protecting on the south side of Quinaig is said to be around 30 m². If JMT were to link a fence to the existing native woodland fence at Little Assynt and run it high out and over to Lochan Coire Raibhach then down the road side to Skiag junction (which would have a minimal visual impact to the area) and utilise the native woodland tree nursery on their doorstep at Little Assynt (that gather tree seeds locally) they could plant a massive woodland both sides of the road and see an instant achievement. This would create jobs in the area for local fencers tree planters and woodland monitors. Local children could take a hand in planting and then watch their trees grow over the years, giving them a connection to the land. Deer numbers outside the fence could be reduced selectively. After a few years the fence could come down and there will be a healthy woodland with an extensive seed source (where at the moment there is none.)
If this was done then the people of Assynt can continue with all the economic activities as before and we can get on and live our lives in this beautiful area in peace once more.
Assynt Crofters' Trust
Sport & Game Committee
Wounded stag on Quinag
On Monday 16th January a local resident spotted a stag coming down from Allt na Claise heading for Ardvar. The stag was very lame and had
its jaw hanging off. The next day, the stalker from Ardvar tracked the stag, who had headed for lower ground as was natural for a wounded animal. However he could not get a clear shot to put the beast out of its misery
due to the denseness of the trees.
In the following days an extensive search was carried out of the area, and
the stag was eventually shot five days later. The stag had horrific injuries to his body and face, and had suffered for five long days, unable to eat or drink.
Such wanton cruelty is disgraceful. As the John Muir Trust have contractors on Quinag with a license to shoot day and night, it appears obvious
that this poor beast was shot by one of them, since no one else has authority to shoot out of season.
Assynt Crofters' Trust call upon all Assynt landowners, gamekeepers and members of the community to condemn JMT's utter disregard for animal suffering, and we would welcome your emails of support to this end.
JOHN MUIR TRUST AND NATURESCOT
The relationship between Nature Scot (SNH as was – NS/SNH) and the John Muir Trust (JMT) in Assynt may best be understood if we see NS/SNH as a dog owner, and JMT as their dog which has a history of worrying sheep. Much as one might wish the dog not to behave badly, ultimately it is the owner who must shoulder the blame if the dog is allowed to act badly. When NS/SNH granted a night-time shooting licence to JMT for Quinag, they were quite simply slipping the leash. They knew exactly what would happen and must have reasoned that any backlash from those estates bordering Quinag could be dismissed out of hand. When JMT’s neighbours asked NS/SNH to explain the granting of the licence, NS/SNH have responded by saying that in their view the request was ‘reasonable’.
One can only guess at why NS/SNH have chosen to act in this way. A couple of years ago, with a JMT Land Manager who lived locally and who saw the benefits of working with his neighbours, there was no problem; indeed, the local Deer Management Group was working well and smoothly. But for whatever reason, JMT decided to dispense with their local employee and rely instead on outside contractors. And with this much more aggressive approach to deer culling, which has seen the ‘Community’ larder at Glen Canisp Lodge full and, at times, overflowing, one can see the true face of NS/SNH.
They pay lip service to the idea of local deer management but when their pet land owner goes rogue, there is no sanction, no criticism. As long as deer are being killed in Assynt, in numbers much greater than provided for in the deer management plan which was agreed by all land owners on the Peninsula and NS/SNH, that is just fine.
It may be that the humiliation of their well-publicised volte-face a few years ago has engendered a feeling of revenge. It may be that when their own consultants concluded that the SAC (Special Area of Conservation) designation at Ardvar Woodlands had been wrongly applied – a fact which the Assynt Crofters had argued for years – they decided that they would do whatever it took to damage the welfare of the people living on the Assynt Peninsula, by allowing this asset-stripping of a natural resource by those from outwith the area. Who knows?
Whatever their motivation, they have given the John Muir Trust licence to kill deer 24 hours per day until the end of March. There is little to be done when the law is weighted against a section of the population.
The Assynt Crofters, being the largest land-owner on the Assynt Peninsula, has come to the view that NS/SNH can no longer be trusted in matters relating to deer regulation and have decided to organise our deer business ourselves, without any further input from NS/SNH.
The Byre, on the north side of Quinag, as it is called locally, has always been a sanctuary for animals. Even when it was owned by the Sankey family, no deer were shot there. Indeed, some of the old Assynt crofters thought that there was a specific law against shooting deer there, rather like a church offering sanctuary to those fleeing the law, a long time ago.
Because there is now no safe place at all for deer on JMT land, even in the hours of darkness, the Assynt Crofters will reduce their cull target for hinds and calves to try to ensure the continued existence of red deer on the Peninsula. We will also explore the possibility of allowing deer into some of our fenced plantations.
At the same time, we will continue to work with our neighbours and other members of the Assynt Peninsula Deer Management Sub-group to try to mitigate the on-going damage caused by NS/SNH & their mad dog.
Assynt Crofters’ Trust
Sport & Game Committee
Assynt Crofters’ Trust belong to the Assynt Peninsular Sub-group (APSG) of the West Sutherland Deer Management Group, a group of neighbouring landowners who collaborate to manage the local red deer population.
Sustainable deer management is part of the fabric of Highland communities, providing much needed employment, local investment, and ethically produced meat, as well as ensuring the well-being of the deer themselves.
Every season, each estate is given a cull target for that year, and when the season ends at the end of October, no more shooting of stags is permitted.
The John Muir Trust (JMT) has applied to NatureScot for an out of season and night shooting license for their land on the mountain of Quinag.
the mountain of Quinag as seen from Little Assynt
NatureScot (formerly SNH) is the lead advisory body on nature, wildlife management and landscape management across Scotland. It aims to promote, care for and improve Scotland's natural assets. NatureScot are able to grant such an authority which “allows occupiers suffering damage to improved agricultural land or enclosed woodland to control deer in the closed season."
JMT's rationale for this is to protect woodland areas on Quinag which they say are being impacted by deer grazing. However there is a bare minimum of woodland on the open mountain. The notable area of woodland is a Site of Special Scientific Interest at Ardvar which is neither "improved agricultural land" nor "enclosed woodland."
They state that "after over a decade participating in the APSG... there has been little progress and these fragile woodlands continue to suffer damage."
However since 2017 ACT and neighbouring Ardvar Estate have delivered on the targets set by Scottish Forestry and NatureScot in relation to around 94% of this Ardvar woodland area. The woodland is clearly regenerating, despite the deer. There is no evidence of high deer impacts on the wider open hill area, where woodland would struggle to survive in any case.
JMT's target deer cull for 2022 was 32, and in fact they shot far more at 45. They now have the opportunity to kill many, many more.
All the local estates are aware of JMT's objectives and for the most part would agree with them. Going back over 25 years, ACT and other deer management group members have successfully planted and regenerated over 2000 hectares of new native woodlands.
However ACT disagree completely wth JMT's means of achieving their goals. JMT are completely opposed to fencing, the logical means of preventing deer encroaching on up-and-coming growth. Their sole policy is reducing the deer population to a bare minimum. Deer travel long distances in search of food, and culling deer in one place simply means that others will move in from elsewhere.
This gratuitous killing of deer will have a direct, long lasting and detrimental effect on all of their neighbours.
Despite objections from all the neighbouring estates, NatureScot have granted this license. They have stated that "before issuing an authorisation, NatureScot needs to satisfy iteself that damage is likely to occur, and that there are no other means of control which can reasonably be adopted in the circumstances to prevent damage."
ACT is of the view that fencing the affected area would be an extremely effective "means of control which can be reasonably adopted in the circumstances to prevent damage," rather than indiscriminate killing which is unlikely to work in any case.
Deer culling without verifiable environmental gain is just gratuitous, and ultimately unsustainable.
Following the strenuous objections of their neighbours, JMT have now decided to leave the Sutherland Deer Management Group altogether. NatureScot's website states that: "collaboration and consultation between the various interests on any given piece of land is highly desirable. All possible steps should be taken to ensure an effective dialogue between owner, occupier(s), sporting tenants, controllers, neighbours and the local deer management group. Longer-term problems may be more effectively addressed by working with other deer managers in the area than by resorting to authorisations."
NatureScot have made no comment on JMT's decision to leave the Deer Management Group, nor, as far as ACT know, have they made any attempt to dissuade them from this action.
ACT and the neighbouring estates will continue to deal with their land as they see fit, in the hope that there will still be deer left to manage. Obviously the availability for “effective dialogue” between the Deer Management Group and JMT no longer exists. This is likely to only further alienate the John Muir Trust from local Highland communities, as well as from their own supporters.
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Assynt Crofters' Trust
North Assynt Estate
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