GAMEKEEPERS have warned that proposals to reduce both deer and gamebirds in the Cairngorms National Park will unpick centuries of land management tradition – and alienate the area's skilled workforce.

Responding to the Park Authority's consultation on its draft 'Five Year Vision', the Scottish Gamekeepers Association pointed out that the Park itself had admitted its information on gamebird release was incomplete, but had gone ahead and formulated policy anyway.

That draft plan includes increased tree planting targets, heightened deer culls and curbs on game management. The Park wants to see deer densities of only five to eight deer per square kilometre, reduced grouse bags and less pheasant releases within its boundary.

SGA warned that such restrictions would 'critically undermine' the viability of game businesses within the Park, leading to job and investment losses, and in so doing compromise the Park's own priorities, by removing the very people capable of skilled deer management and wildfire mitigation.

The gamekeepers also suggested that the proposals would diminish the 'cultural heritage' of the Park – despite that being one of the elements it was set up to protect when founded by an act of Parliament in 2003.

“Instead of utilising the vast skills within the land management community, this plan belittles their present and future contribution – it is extremely disappointing," said SGA Chairman, Alex Hogg, MBE.

“This is a time when centuries of knowledge in field-skills and things like humane deer management and wildfire mitigation are vital in a changing climate. The Park needs to take these people with them. Ultimately, the white collars won’t deliver the priorities, people on the ground will,”

Read more: Out-of-season deer culls cause concern on Skye

Addressing the proposal for a reduction in gamebird releases, Mr Hogg said that the Park Authority's own consultation notes admitted that the present information it held on the subject was ‘patchy’. By way of filling those gaps, Mr Hogg referred to last Autumn's DEFRA review of pheasant releases in England, which found that impacts were localised, with no negative affects 500metres from release points. He also highlighted that pheasant and partridge shooting was part of a sector sustaining 8800 full time equivalent Scottish jobs, a significant proportion of which were within the Cairngorms National Park.

“Subjective evaluations of certain activities founded on information gaps is not a foundation for policy, given the Park’s duties to its residents and businesses,” said the SGA, which also described the Park’s deer management blueprint as ‘unworkable’.

While the Scottish Government is set to legislate to promote a Scotland-wide deer density of 10 deer per sq km, the Park’s draft plan is to pursue open range deer densities up to 50% lower than that.

“This would mean the Park promoting deer population levels at odds with every other region of Scotland," said the SGA consultation response. "This is confusing and unworkable. SGA members have managed more deer in the last decade than any other representative organisation – over one million. The biodiversity benefits of this should not be forgotten by those shaping policies which could further undermine viability.

“Deer and game managers make up an interwoven element of the Park’s cultural heritage which cannot be readily sacrificed."

Scottish Land & Estates chairman Mark Tennant was more diplomatic in his response to the CNPA consultation: ‘‘The National Park Partnership Plan is of great importance to SLE members who reside and work within the Park’s boundary.

"On the whole, we feel the proposed plan is a progressive document, with many objectives that will ensure that the economy of the Park continues to grow, as well as retaining its status as a key visitor destination within Scotland. We also believe that some of the proposed policy changes will enable nature to continue to thrive in the Park, with land managers being at the heart of wildlife and habitat conservation and restoration," said Mr Tennant.

"However, we are concerned that some key objectives, especially those found under the 'Nature' banner, seem to move well beyond progressive policies without robust evidence or clear policy rationale, and may adversely affect the ability of land managers to deliver positive outcomes.“