Species set to receive protection, but will require careful management.
The Scottish Government is minded to allow beavers to remain in Scotland, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has announced.
Ms Cunningham has said the species will have to be actively managed, in line with practices in other European countries.
Work has now begun to ensure beavers can be added to Scotland’s list of protected species as soon as possible. It will be the first time a mammal has been officially reintroduced to the UK.
Scottish Ministers have agreed that:
- Beaver populations in Argyll and Tayside can remain
- The species will receive legal protection, in accordance with the EU Habitats Directive
- Beavers will be allowed to expand their range naturally
- Beavers should be actively managed to minimise adverse impacts on farmers and other land owners
- It will remain an offence for beavers to be released without a licence, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine
Research has shown beavers, which were native to Scotland before being hunted to extinction in the 16th century, provide important biodiversity benefits.
However, the animals can also cause significant difficulties for farmers and land managers in vital agricultural areas.
The impacts of beavers in Scotland have been closely monitored by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) at both the official Scottish Beaver Trial site in Knapdale in Argyll and also on Tayside, where the species has become established after being released illegally.
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said:
“I have been determined to find a pragmatic approach, which balances the biodiversity benefits of reintroducing beavers with the obvious need to limit difficulties for our farmers.
“I want to put on record my appreciation of the efforts of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, NFU Scotland, the Royal Scottish Zoological Society, and Scottish Land and Estates who have worked in partnership to set out a way forward.
“Beavers promote biodiversity by creating new ponds and wetlands, which in turn provide valuable habitats for a wide range of other species.
“We want to realise these biodiversity benefits while limiting adverse impacts on farmers and other land users. This will require careful management.
“Today’s announcement represents a major milestone in our work to protect and enhance Scotland’s world renowned biodiversity.
“But I want to be absolutely clear that while the species will be permitted to extend its range naturally, further unauthorised releases of beavers will be a criminal act.
“Swift action will be taken in such circumstances to prevent a repeat of the experience on Tayside.”
The Scottish Government is now required by law to complete a Habitats Regulations Assessment and consider a Strategic Environmental Assessment.
Management techniques to prevent beaver damage, such as controlling flow through dams, or protecting valuable trees can be carried out without a licence.
More intensive management techniques, up to and including lethal control, are permitted under the Habitats Regulations for specified purposes and subject to there being no other satisfactory solution, and no adverse effect on the conservation status of the species.
This is the framework that applies in most other European countries and allows beavers to be managed to prevent serious damage to land uses such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
The Scottish Government will provide advice and assistance to farmers in understanding their options and helping them implement mitigation and prevention measures.
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