Highland estate develops safaris to cull 1,000 deer

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The Independent Online

Britons who dream of tracking animals in the Serengeti or hunting game on other remote African plains may soon be able to reach their prey without crossing the sea.

Britons who dream of tracking animals in the Serengeti or hunting game on other remote African plains may soon be able to reach their prey without crossing the sea.

The Scottish Highlands, with its mists, heather and midges may not immediately evoke the world of a pith-helmeted Stewart Granger, but African-style safaris in the colonial mode, with hunters stalking stag at dawn, could be coming soon to the Cairngorms.

The prey may not be big cats - the stalkers and gillies would be content with a few deer and grouse - but the Mar Lodge estate, five miles from the Queen's residence at Balmoral, hopes African traditions of spending days in the wilderness can be adopted to more temperate climes.

The National Trust for Scotland has been consulting guides more familiar with trekking in Kenya, Nigeria and Nepal to advise them how to turn the 77,500-acre estate into a place that old-time big-game hunters would have recognised. The trust plans to close large sections of the 45 miles of track through the Cairngorms estate so hunters can reach the wilderness only on foot or by pony. They would then pitch camp for several days as they culled the estate's deer.

Alister Clunas, the estate's property manager said: "We want to give people a unique experience in which, when they get out into the estate, they do not see the landscape scarred by bulldozer tracks. We want to withdraw vehicles from this area and minimise the environmental impact on it."

The scheme would allow access to the remoter parts of one of Scotland's most famous sporting estates. Ponies and porters would carry supplies such as the champagne and port vital to rounding off a good day on safari and the ponies would be taken up the hillside to carry down the dead deer. Mr Clunas added: "In many ways, we will be doing what the Victorians used to do on this estate. They built lodges where people could stay for a few days. Ironically, some of these traditions were then used by people on safari in Africa and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the lodges have fallen into disrepair."

One reason for trying the safari experience is the need to cull 1,000 of the 2,700 deer on the estate, bought by the trust in 1995, so growth of native Caledonian pine forest is encouraged.

Mar Lodge, where a day hunting costs £270, has sought advice from Christopher Ussher, a former Gurkha and guide on East and West African safaris. Mr Ussher, who runs Harewood sporting estate in Yorkshire, said: "Done properly, we would leave no trace that anyone had been there.

"We have been able to do this sort of thing in Nepal, in some extremely environmentally sensitive areas. I think there is a market for this type of trekking in Scotland."

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