RED DEER carcases left at a popular Highland beauty spot near Fort William have raised questions over the local conservation charity’s deer management activities.

A dog walker came upon the hinds in the Nevis Gorge area at the end of January, reigniting an old row between the John Muir Trust and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association over leaving culled animals to rot in public.

The John Muir Trust has categorically denied allegations that their deer stalking contractors had left ‘butchered carcasses’ in public view, suggesting instead that the bodies had been moved intentionally by an unnamed third party to generate a controversial ‘photo opportunity’ ahead of a major Scottish Government announcement on deer management in Scotland.

This is not the first time the SGA and the Trust have locked antlers. In 2011, the SGA called a meeting with the charity after it left 40 dead deer in public view at Ben Nevis and in 2016, after 86 sculled stags were left on a Knoydart hillside, some with haunches and heads removed.

The gamekeepers’ group raised concerns that images of butchered deer will turn the public against deer managers who carry out vital conservation work across the country reducing red deer populations.

Best practice certification for deer managers states that carcasses in proximity to buildings and public areas should be removed. In the past, the charity’s stalkers culled and left animals which they said were too difficult to extract.

“Every few years these things seem to happen on John Muir Trust ground. It is not isolated, sadly,” said Bill Cowie of the SGA Deer Group. “Regarding the deer in the photographs, there may have been some access problems extracting them from one side, but it is known there is access out from the other. Do the public really want to see this when taking daily exercise? If not, they should write to their MSPs.

“There are families in dire straits, with big demand at food banks. The venison left could have fed a family for weeks,” he continued. “Scottish Government has just given £50 000 to promote venison. Is this the signals Scotland should be sending about a resource Government says needs developing?”

The John Muir Trust were notified by a contractor at the end of January that they had come across seven carcasses laid out near the public footpath.

“He and his colleagues had culled these deer several weeks earlier on January 4 and left them higher on the hillside after removing as much as venison as possible,” explained the Trust's chief executive, David Balharry. “On discovering that the carcasses had been located to a more visible location he proceeded to remove from public sight.”

He went on to explain that due to the challenging terrain around Glen Nevis, ATVs cannot access the steep gorge to remove carcasses and that they are not prepared to use helicopters.

“That means our contractors remove venison from carcasses on the hillside and leave the remainder for raptors and other scavengers as a part of an arrangement we have with NatureScot,” he continued. “We believe this model of deer control will in the future allow greater community access to venison."

He also raised suspicions as to why these carcasses had been dragged from the hillside and grouped closely together for the ‘purpose of photo opportunity’: “We note that this story has emerged just as the Scottish Government is about to announce its response to the report of the Independent Deer Working Group, which has proposed major changes to deer management in Scotland for the benefit of nature, local communities and climate,” he concluded.