Assynt Crofters' Trust's Sport&Game Committee has released an article today likening John Muir Trust to an out of control dog which NatureScot are failing to take responsibility for. The article is in response to the environment NGO starting an out-of-season deer cull on their property at Quinag in Assynt which will have adverse impacts on the wider community.
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.