1,000 deer face 'extermination' on remote Scottish island

A Red Deer on South Uist. (PA)
A red deer on South Uist. (PA)

A community on a remote Scottish island is set to vote on whether they should exterminate their local red deer population.

Residents of the South Uist community in the Outer Hebrides have said the move may be necessary due to Lyme disease, which can be spread to humans from infected tick bites on deer.

South Uist has among the highest rates of Lyme disease in the country, according to NHS Western Isles.

Residents have also complained the deers are causing serious road accidents and that they are nuisance animals regularly destroying crops and gardens.

Around 200 members of Storas Uibhist have signed a petition in favour of the move, it is believed almost 1,000 people could attend next week's vote on the issue. The island has a population of around 1,750.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), which represents professional deer managers and whose members’ jobs are at risk from the vote, have called for "clear-headed thinking" when it came to the move.

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A road sign warning motorists to be careful of deer crossing on South Uist. (PA)
A road sign warning motorists to be careful of deer crossing on South Uist. (PA)

The SGA noted current estimates put deer density on the island at around three deer per square kilometre, below the Scottish government's recommended 10 per sq km.

Storas Uibhist, the community-owned company which manages South Uist Estate, has been regularly culling the population to keep it under control.

Last year almost 300 animals were killed.

The leadership of Storas Uibhist say it does not support the idea.

They told the BBC: "We believe eradication is unnecessary and would be economically damaging both to the estate directly and also to the wider community."

The SGA pointed out it would be expensive to carry out and would have repercussions on the local economy with the end of venison sales on the island as well as putting off tourists.

They also raised the moral question of whether it was right to destroy a species that had been native to the island for thousands of years.

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Residents have complained the deer destroy gardens. (PA)
Residents have complained the deer destroy gardens. (PA)

SGA chairman Alex Hogg said: "The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) fully respects the rights of local communities to make their own decisions. However, choosing the route of exterminating a species, long native to an area, is an extreme step which will have wide-ranging repercussions. This must be carefully thought through."

Local vet David Buckland told the BBC said hoped people would understand the need for a large-scale cull because of the "very, very real" risk of Lyme disease.

The debate on the island started when Bornish (a small village on the island) community council published a survey last month.

They found only 7% of the 115 respondents viewed the presence of deer on the island as a good thing.

The majority of respondents were also critical of Storas Uibhist deer management.

The council also noted Storas Uibhist's estimates of the deer population had been less than half the 1,000-1,200 animals currently believed to be on the island.

Three-quarters of respondents said they had had negative issues with deer in the past five years.