wild roe deer are being slaughtered for fun by gangs armed with dogs, say gamekeepers on one of the Borders’ largest estates.
And one professional stalker believes the problem has become so bad that the population of the mammal in the region may have been halved.
The latest deaths were among the most horrific, with the mauled bodies of a female deer and her two fawn left behind in a field at Crailinghall near Jedburgh last week.
Tommy Heard, a hobby gamekeeper for Lothian Estates after 20 years of being employed in the profession, made the gruesome find and believes the deer were subjected to an attack by dogs. He claims that around 40 roe deer have 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 told TheSouthern: “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.”
The deer killers are believed to operate between midnight and around 3am. They use a beam of light to spot their target, before releasing two dogs, who work as a team to bring down the docile animals.
Mr Heard added: “These guys are often professionals – we caught one man in a field who was a building inspector in England.
“They are also damaging fields, stealing quad bikes and diesel. It is just another case of rural crime.
“It is the worse I have experienced and is getting worse. We used to have one or two incidents a year of people either snaring a hare or a couple of rabbits, but this is now serious.”
The estate’s head gamekeeper Ed Bell says night-time patrols with Lothian and Borders Police wildlife crime co-ordinator Ruaraidh Hamilton have caught suspected poachers, but failed to result in a prosecution.
He told us: “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.
“If anyone sees any suspicious vehicles in the area or bright, high-powered lights shining, then please ring the police.”
Brian Soar, a professional deer stalker on the Lothian Estates and south Yorkshire, added: “It is a huge problem, not just in the Borders, but across the country.
“But it has got ridiculous in the Borders. It is not just deer they are targeting, but sheep as well.
“These groups are going out with pit-bull dogs and just doing it for fun. 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.
“The industry has shrunk by 50 per cent across the country, and I would say deer numbers are down by 30 to 50 per cent in the Borders, due to these illegal activities.”
The perpetrators often enter the region via Oxnam Estate along the Scotland-England border, according to its gamekeeper Tony Lowrie.
He said: “They seem to come over the Carter Bar but use the back roads, rather than come along the main A68.
“There was a bit of a lull but they seem to be coming back in the last few months.
“One particular night they went through seven or eight fields.
“The doe that was killed last week was in pieces, it was no good for anything. Why they are doing it, I just don’t know.”
Scottish SPCA chief superintendent 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.
“Anyone with information on deer poaching should contact local police or our Animal Helpline on 03000 999 999.”
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.”