The head of a Highland sporting firm has been condemned by the British Deer Society (BDS) for failing to prevent the filming of a controversial stag cull which provoked outrage from stalkers and the public alike.
BDS said it was “disappointed that someone who is as well regarded in the deer world as Niall Rowantree” – head stalker at the Ardnamurchan-based West Highland Hunting – “did not stop the incident from being filmed”.
The Ferret reported in November that BDS, which oversees humane deer control, was investigating the incident after a video circulated on social media. It shows a stalking party, led by Rowantree, watching a herd of deer run into a sea loch.
Shooter Fraser Macdonald is encouraged to “whack” the stag, which is then shot once and left to struggle in the water for around 90 seconds before sinking. The group can then be heard laughing and congratulating Macdonald.
Following its probe, BDS said: “We were disappointed that someone who is as well regarded in the deer world as Niall Rowantree did not stop the incident from being filmed. We all have a duty to ensure we do not bring our community into disrepute and the footage with its accompanying commentary, was distressing and distasteful and clearly upset many people who viewed it.
“The British Deer Society received numerous complaints from the public after this video was posted and paramount to our charitable aims is the welfare of deer. If we feel that actions that run contrary to this are brought to our attention, then we absolutely reserve the right to comment.”
Police Scotland also investigated the incident, which we understand happened on the northwest coast. “The inquiry has concluded and no criminality has been established”, it confirmed. “There have been no arrests or charges.”
The incident was denounced at the time by then-cabinet secretary, Michael Russell who deemed it “repulsive” and said the stag suffered a “horrific end”. Other stalkers slammed the cull via social media and deer hunting forum, the Stalking Directory.
In November, BDS said the video of the stag cull “appears to show poor practice” that was “unrepresentative” of usual high standards. But it would be “inappropriate to offer further comment” until establishing “the full facts”.
When we contacted Rowantree for comment in November, he said: “The information you have is factually incorrect and the British Deer Society have removed their post.”
The Ferret asked Rowantree to specify what was incorrect, but he did not respond. After we published the story, Macdonald was interviewed by the online Fieldsports Channel.
He described some of the criticism from fellow stalkers as “disgusting”, and accused them of “never knowing the full story”. He said that he had shot the stag before the film was taken but had failed to kill it.
His second shot, shown in the footage, “proved to be an effective and lethal shot”, he argued. “It was safe and the wounded stag is dead.”
In a subsequent video published in March, the Fieldsports narrator stated that Rowantree was minded to resign his BDS membership, which the stalker said he had held for more than 40 years.
“I would like to apologise for the way they’ve conducted themselves,” Rowantree told Fieldsports.
“They’ve left themselves with little credibility. And that disappoints me particularly when you see correspondence and you know that individuals took a position against you without being fully apprised of the facts.
“Perhaps they’d have been better to have been focused through a spyglass than a whisky glass when they made their comments.”
In November, we revealed West Highland Hunting, which previously advertised “trophy” stags to potential clients on its website, offered clients the chance to shoot rare stags and other animals for up to £8,000.
The firm’s 2020 price list, obtained by The Ferret, offered bespoke hunting packages for a range of animals including white red stags, sika stags, Père David bulls, roe bucks and feral billy goats.
Critics of trophy hunting – including politicians and the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting – called for the sport to be abolished.
In 2018, Rowantree was pictured posing with TV host Larysa Switlyk and a dead stag in the west Highlands. We reported that the celebrity huntress had shared images on social media posing with the deer, goats and a ram she had killed on a hunting trip in Scotland.
Niall Rowantree did not respond to our requests to comment.