Deer are the biggest threat to Scotland’s native trees, according to an eight-year study by Forestry Commission Scotland.
Native Woodland Survey of Scotland scientists found more than 20 per cent (311,153 ha) of Scotland’s forests are native woodland, nearly half of which are in a “satisfactory” condition for biodiversity.
But researchers also said a “significant” amount of ancient woodland had been lost in the last 40 years.
Dr Maggie Keegan, policy head at Scottish Wildlife Trust, who have reserves in the Borders, said: “This study provides compelling evidence that cannot be ignored – deer in some areas of the uplands are the number one threat to Scotland’s ancient native woodlands ... if we are going to reverse the decline to Scotland’s most threatened habitats we may have to rethink the current voluntary approach to deer management.”
But Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman, Peeblesshire gamekeeper Alex Hogg said the voluntary code of practice agreed three years ago needs time.
He said: “Progress towards goals has been made and more needs to be done before we can accurately assess the effectiveness of this.
“It would be unfair for a judgement to be delivered part-way.”
Last week, Holyrood’s rural affairs committee, considering deer control, said some managers were “too slow” in getting plans in place, but also that there was no need to make sustainable deer management law “at this point in time”.