PUBLIC SPENDING watchdog Audit Scotland has been asked to investigate the award of a near £200,000 grant to build a 12 mile deer fence in Assynt.

In a situation highlighted by some local 'impacted parties', the Scottish Government’s nature body, NatureScot, has awarded Woodland Trust Scotland £198,341 as part of a £420,000 scheme to fence deer out of the 5000 acre Eisg Brachaidh estate, under the Biodiversity Challenge Fund launched in 2019 to finance priority habitat work.

According to Victor Clements, consultant to the neighbouring Inverpolly Estate, there are 'potential anomalies' in the awarding of the funds. In tandem with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, acting on behalf of deer managers and its members in Assynt, Mr Clements has written to Audit Scotland seeking an intervention.

In public procurement contracts, a number of costed tenders should be received and assessed before funding is awarded, but Mr Clements maintained that freedom of information materials he had obtained showed that the funds were granted on the basis of a single tender, secured after the award was made.

Furthermore, despite a 17.1km perimeter fence being erected over designated wild land and close to protected lochs, he alleged that no Environmental Impact Assessment was carried out. Similarly, he said that no economic assessments were carried out to assess the financial impact on neighbouring properties.

“I think it is hugely important for all of us working and advising on woodland and conservation projects in Scotland that funding is not allocated in this way, and without any significant consultation or assessment of risk or environmental impact," said Mr Clements. "It undermines conservation management for all of us, and therefore, it is hugely important to bring this to public attention."

A NatureScot spokesperson responded: “We expect that the Woodland Trust, which leads this project, will continue its local discussion as the scheme progresses, and comply with statutory requirements for a scheme of this type, prior to work commencing. The local Deer Management Group has discussed changing its deer management plan to take into account revised site management at Eisg Brachaidh.

“We have been involved in discussions on the future of this site including different fencing options for a number of years prior to this application. These works were advertised as per government requirements on Public Contracts Scotland and only one quote was submitted. That fencing work has not yet started."