Saturday 4 August 2018


Four individuals who worked to end a controversial deer management dispute in Assynt have been presented with a major rural award.
Mary Reid and David Walker-Smith, Ray Mackay of Assynt Crofters’ Trust and woodland adviser Victor Clements all played a part in breaking an impasse over deer impacts at a designated woodland site at Ardvar.
The issue regarding the extent of deer browsing damage to protected woodlands became divisive and Scottish Natural Heritage had decided to impose a statutory Order on the community until fresh evidence forced a rethink.
On Friday, the persistence of the individuals in presenting their case against the odds was honoured with the presentation of the Ronnie Rose award at Moy Game Fair.
The trophy, in the name of the late author, deer manager and MBE, was inaugurated by The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) in order to recognise individuals who have devoted significant energy to rural conservation or education.
Judges deemed the work of the quartet to be an example to all fragile communities who believe local knowledge should play a part in shaping futures.
SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said: “All of these individuals, and others, played a part in different stages in Assynt, assisted by Victor Clements’ knowledge of how deer interact with their habitats. What unites them are the hours they gave and the passion with which they pursued evidence to re-state their position. They refused to give up and, in doing so, demonstrated to authorities that the knowledge of land managers on the ground should not be dismissed when making decisions affecting peoples’ lives. Their resilience is an example.”
Ray Mackay, Vice Chair of Assynt Crofters’ Trust, who could not make the presentation in person, was at the helm of the local deer management group when SNH decided to back away from using statutory powers.
He said: “This would not be possible if it had not been for all the people who advised, cajoled and encouraged - members of the Assynt Peninsula Deer Management Sub-Group and members of the Sport & Game Committee of the Assynt Crofters' Trust. I would like to thank two people for their support- Jim Payne, owner of Ardvar Estate, and Michael Ross, the gamekeeper there. I would also like to acknowledge the gracious support offered by Dr Mike Cantlay. His first Board meeting as Chair of SNH was the meeting at which the Assynt Peninsula came under the spotlight. Although the Board's decision went against us, Mike kept a line of communication open and, with his input, SNH adopted a different approach which eventually led to the agreement we now have.”
Mary Reid and David Walker-Smith led the local deer group at the beginning of the dispute. They were delighted to receive the award at Moy.
“I feel very honoured that the work I and other colleagues have done for deer in Assynt led to ournames being put forward,” said Mary.
David added: “Hopefully what has been learned will make those responsible for policy documents to listen to those on the ground involved in deer management on a daily basis.”
Victor Clements, who advised the group, said: “The resolution at Ardvar/Assynt shows what can be achieved when people focus on issues and evidence, not the arguments.”
Three individuals also received long service medals from the SGA for 40 years of unbroken service to their profession.
Badanloch Stalker Brian Lyall, Kinloch-Hourn stalker Donald Cameron and Glenfeshie gamekeeper David Taylor all received medals over the weekend, presented by Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing MSP, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg and Committee Member, Iain Hepburn.