South Scotland

Borders estate deer 'torn apart'

Roe deer and fawn
Image caption The Scottish SPCA has urged anyone with information about deer coursing to contact them

Gamekeepers on a Borders estate claim wild roe deer are being slaughtered for fun by gangs armed with dogs.

One professional stalker believes the problem has become so bad that the deer population in the region may have been halved.

Last week the bodies of a female deer and her two fawn were found in a field at Crailinghall near Jedburgh.

The Scottish SPCA said deer coursing and poaching were "incredibly difficult crimes to detect".

Tommy Heard, an unpaid gamekeeper who works on the Lothian Estates after 20 years of being employed in the profession, made the latest discovery.

He believes the deer were attacked by dogs.

He claimed that about 40 roe deer had been killed in this way in the Crailinghall area since the start of the year, with reports of similar incidents in Oxnam, Camptown and north Northumberland along the border.

He said: "They are not poachers and they are not even doing it for a sport - it is barbaric.

"The deer is attacked at the back legs by the dogs and torn apart.

"They are trained to kill and tear the deer to pieces - it is horrible."

Suspected poachers

The deer killers are believed to operate between midnight and about 3am.

They use a beam of light to spot their target, before releasing two dogs, who work as a team to bring down the animals.

The estate's head gamekeeper, Ed Bell, said night-time patrols with Lothian and Borders Police wildlife crime co-ordinator Ruaraidh Hamilton had caught suspected poachers, but failed to result in a prosecution.

He said: "We thought they were taking the bodies away to sell or eat, but since Tommy found three deer left dead in a field, we are not sure.

"Economically, it is affecting our business and it is a horrible way for the deer to die."

Brian Soar, a professional deer stalker on the Lothian Estates and in south Yorkshire, said it was a "huge problem" throughout the country but had become "ridiculous" in the Borders, with sheep also being targeted.

"These groups are going out with pit bull dogs and just doing it for fun," he said.

"It is a shocking and inhumane way to die.

"You could understand if they were taking the animals away but they appear to be doing it just for fun."

Little evidence

The perpetrators often enter the region via Oxnam Estate along the border between Scotland and England, according to its gamekeeper Tony Lowrie.

Scottish SPCA Ch Supt Mike Flynn said: "Deer poaching and deer coursing are national wildlife crime priorities.

"They are incredibly difficult crimes to detect, but we are always encouraging people to contact ourselves and the police with as much information as possible on any activity they have either witnessed or suspect.

"Information such as a car registration plate can be very useful, but more often than not the perpetrators are long gone and the only evidence remaining is the injured or dead animal."

A Lothian and Borders Police spokesman said: "We treat all reports of rural crime seriously and will robustly investigate whenever a report of this nature is made."

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