A vote is taken to eradicate all deer on the Uist estate

Red deer

A vote will be held on whether to cull all red deer on a community-owned estate in the Western Isles.

Some residents of the 93,000-acre South Uist Estate have raised concerns about Lyme disease, which can be transmitted to humans from infected deer tick bites.

South Uist has amongst the worst rates of sickness in the Western Isles.

Community company Stòras Uibhist, which manages the estate and would oversee the culling of 1,200 deer, believes action is unnecessary.

He said the animal’s population could be reduced through targeted culling.

About 200 members of Stòras Uibhist have signed a petition calling for the removal of all deer on the estate. Next week’s vote could involve up to 870 people.

In addition to concerns about the disease, there have been complaints about grazing farmland and the damage deer do to woodland, gardens and other property.

Stòras Uibhist said he recognized that the number of deer was too high, adding that he had taken action to address the problem.

A spokesman said: “We believe eradication is unnecessary and would economically damage both the estate directly and the wider community.”

There have been concerns about the incidence of Lyme disease for a number of years.

The bacterial infection can cause neurological problems and joint pain if left untreated.

Research carried out by several organisations, including NHS Western Isles, has suggested that the Western Isles had a much higher recorded incidence of Lyme disease in its population than elsewhere in Scotland.

“Terribly Big Task”

Islander Tommy MacDonald said ticks have become a growing problem.

He said: “We have seen a huge increase in the number of ticks.

“When I was younger you only saw ticks when shearing sheep or after a hill walk. But in recent years you could get a tick in people’s gardens too.”

Local vet David Buckland said he hoped people understood the need for large-scale culling, saying the risks posed by Lyme disease to Islanders were “very, very real”.

But among those opposing the eradication is Alasdair Moffat, who has Lyme disease and had to have a pacemaker fitted because the infection affected his heart.

Moffat said deer management has provided employment for young people on South Uist.

Another Islander Rory MacGillivray, a game warden with 40 years of experience, said the situation had worsened because Stòras Uibhist hadn’t managed the numbers of deer properly in recent years.

He said a mass cull would set the community’s company with a “horrifyingly large task”.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association also warned that large-scale culling would be costly and argued that the density of deer on the estate was below Scottish Government guidelines.

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