Management is key, say farmers, as beaver protected in law

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Scotland’s farming union has stressed beaver management and licensing schemes must be effective after it was announced the mammals have been given protected status in law.

Conservation charities have greeted the news warmly.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), lead partners in the Scottish Beaver Trial – a five-year programme to re-introduce European beavers to Mid Argyll – welcomed the introduction of European Protected Species status for the Eurasian beaver in Scotland.

From May 1 it is illegal to carry out a range of activities, including lethal control of beavers and destroying established dams and lodges, without a licence.

The two organisations urged land managers to show restraint in controlling beavers while young kits are dependent on their parents. This period runs from April 1 until August 16.

Jo Pike, chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: ‘Granting beavers protected status is an important milestone for the return of the species to Scotland’s lochs and rivers. It follows decades of work by countless organisations and individuals to demonstrate the positive impacts beavers can have.’

But farming union NFUS has concerns that since the illegal release of beavers on Tayside some years ago, numbers have trebled.

The union recognises the species is here to stay and that, in some locations, beavers and people can co-exist happily, but it believes beavers have negative impacts in particular cases.

NFUS Environment and Land Use Committee chairman, Kilninver farmer Angus MacFadyen, said: ‘In 2016, NFU Scotland accepted beavers should be given protected status.  Along with several other interested organisations, we acknowledged the value beavers add to Scotland’s biodiversity.

‘But we also agreed with these other organisations, and with Scottish Government and SNH, that in some locations there is a clear need to manage this species to minimise undesirable impacts on agriculture.

‘We welcome the statement in the recent open letter published by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Roseanna Cunningham that the reintroduction ‘will not be at the expense of the productivity of our rural economy’, going on to identify a flexible and responsive licensing system as the solution.

‘Beavers can have negative impacts, especially when they occur in highly productive agricultural areas. As such, the beaver population is already causing many farmers great concern because of the way beavers can undermine river banks and protective flood banks and potentially impede farmland drainage as a result of damming.’

Jo Pike said: ‘We accept land managers need to have the ability to deal with localised negative impacts caused by beavers. However, it is equally important to ensure lethal control is only used as a last resort and does not threaten the successful spread of beavers into other areas of Scotland.’

Government agency Scottish Natural Heritage also welcomed the protection for beavers. Director Nick Halfhide added: ‘To prepare for beavers’ protected species status, we have been working with partners, including the Scottish Government, farming and conservation bodies, so we are ready to provide free, expert advice and practical support to anyone whose land is affected by beavers.’

There are currently around 450 beavers in Scotland in two separate populations in Tayside and Mid Argyll.