THE number of red deer on the Quantock Hills could be halved if plans by a conservation group go ahead.

The Quantock Deer Management and Conservation Group has sent letters to landowners on the hills to drum up support for a mass cull of red deer on November 30, which will target fe-male and young deer.

The group claims deer numbers are 'unacceptable' and that the animals are causing damage to forestry and farming interests.

The group aims to hold an annual cull over the next five to ten years to re-duce population levels.

But the South West Deer Protection Group has condemned the cull and branded it "a shooting spree".

Its chairman Kevin Hill said: "One problem with the proposed shooting spree is that any deer in the sight of the gun might be shot.

"We're not against the principle of culling deer. Our job is to make people think.

"I'm into the minimum number being culled, but this looks like one big blast."

Deer biologist and secretary of the Quantock Deer Management and Con-servation Group, Dr Jochen Langbein, told the County Gazette that action must be taken to protect farmland from damage.

"I think they don't really understand that it's meant to be one day of culling not a major slaughter of deer.

"We're aiming to try and get deer back to levels people are happier with over a period of about five years," he added.

"Almost every farm we work with feels there are too many deer and most are happy to see 20 or 30 deer roaming the fields, not 50 or 60."

The group hopes the cull will take place in the morning and evening of November 30.

The Quantock Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty group is also supporting the plans.

Group development officer Iain Porter said: "It's not designed to eradicate red deer but to bring levels back to a sustainable deer heard."