Ahead of a key vote later this month, the leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has urged both sides in the Uist deer cull debate to reach an “informed” agreement on the best way forward.
Councillor Paul F Steele’s comments came as Sealladh na Beinne Moire, the parent body of community landlord Storas Uibhist, defended its deer management policies prior to an extraordinary general meeting called by those members who want to see the complete eradication of deer from South Uist.
A motion calling for exactly that is the subject of the EGM, which is due to take place in Southend hall on 20th March.
It was prompted by a survey undertaken by Bornish Community Council last year.
The survey, published in February, found that only seven per cent of the 115 responses – 81 per cent of those contacted – viewed the presence of deer in a positive light.
Bornish Community Council also point to Storas’ own estimate of deer numbers, undertaken last year, which showed there were around 1,200 on the estate, more than double the previous estimate.
The survey found: “Particular issues include the effect on crofting infrastructure, gardening and vegetable growing – and growing concerns regarding the link between deer and the recent major increase in Lyme disease.”
Among the results were: “55 per cent of respondents believe that deer management has become worse or much worse in the past 10 years; 74 per cent of respondents have had negative issues with deer in the past five years; 72 per cent of respondents who raised complaints about deer were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the outcome; 65 per cent of respondents have noticed an increase in ticks in the last five years. They are also found on areas of land where they weren’t found previously.”
Comments from those surveyed focused on the performance of Storas Uibhist.
One said: “Stòras need to look long and hard at its relationship with the community – unresolved deer problems a prominent example.
Another added: “Storas have proved that they cannot manage deer in South Uist. Due to terrain, it is practically impossible.”
The survey recommended culling “significantly more deer”, which underpins the EGM motion which calls for the eradication of all deer from the estate and “finding other viable alternative uses and employment opportunities for land presently occupied by deer.”
In response, Storas chief executive Mary Schmoller pointed to an increase in the number of deer culled last year. At the AGM in November it was agreed to cull 140 hinds and 45 calves, while the actual numbers killed were 166 and 53, plus 97 stags: “the highest cull numbers ever recorded.”
Ms Schmoller added: “When the community buyout happened, ensuring Storas took over the sporting rights from the old syndicate was integral to the long-term business plan and that remains the case. Sporting activity brings income to the estate and helps sustain jobs.
“While there is further work to do to maximise revenue, we are steadily moving in the right direction. The complete, immediate and permanent removal of all the deer herd would place all this in jeopardy.
“The cost of immediate eradication would run to hundreds of thousands of pounds and expenditure on this scale would place future development projects, including our plans for affordable housing and a food production facility at risk.
“In addition to the huge one-off expenditure to eradicate the herd, we would lose many tens of thousands of pounds annually in reduced sporting and venison sales income which would place jobs at risk and could result in the closure of Grogarry Lodge.
“Our team have worked hard to develop a market for South Uist venison and the income from this is growing steadily and has great potential.”
As both sides struggle to reach an accommodation, Councillor Steele, who is himself from South Uist, told the Free Press: “It’s clear that deer numbers are a concern in Uist from the resolution put forward but it’s also evident in the response from Storas Uibhist since the latest deer count with the highest cull number recorded by the estate since the buyout.
“Both sides of the debate seem to recognise the issue, both suggest that culling is the solution but the disagreement is on the level of the cull and I would hope that members will listen to what I hope will be considered, informed debate at the EGM before casting their vote.”
Article by Michael Russell