The reintroduction of species can have both positive and negative effects on the environment and requires a great deal of careful research, as well as taking into account the views of anyone who would be affected. Conservation interests must be considered alongside those of farmers and landowners.
Species reintroduction in Scotland
Anyone wanting to release any new species in Scotland must acquire a licence from NatureScot, and release without a licence is a criminal offence.
We would never agree a licence unless we were satisfied that the views of all those who would be affected by any proposal were properly taken into account.
We have no plans to reintroduce lynx, wolves, bears or any other large carnivore species into Scotland.
Kielder Forest Project to release lynx in England
A project has been proposed to release lynx in Kielder Forest in England. If this went ahead, the lynx would be likely to cross into Scotland and Defra has agreed that Scottish views need to be taken into account.
We will ensure that Defra knows that Scottish farmers are very concerned about the risks to their livestock from this project.
White-tailed eagles went extinct in Scotland in 1917 due to persecution, but have since been reintroduced via three release phases: two on the west coast between 1975 and 1985, and 1993 and 1998, and one on the east coast between 2007 and 2012.
The reintroduction programme has been deemed a conservation success, and has contributed to tourism revenues. In Mull, the presence of white-tailed eagles is estimated to bring in around £5 million per year.
However, we recognise that the species may come into conflict with land-use interests such as sheep farming. There is a sea eagle management scheme ran by the National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS), the Scottish Crofting Federation, and the National Sheep Association that is open to farmers and crofters who are most at risk of losing stock.
Meanwhile, the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project is seeking to reinforce the population of golden eagles in the south of Scotland where human activity and changes in land use have reduced their numbers.
Wild beavers can have a positive impact on biodiversity by creating new wetland habitat for a range of important species.
However, they can also cause problems for farmers by blocking drainage ditches and undermining flood defences.
Beavers reintroduced to Scotland
Wild beavers were released into Knapdale Forest in Argyll in 2009 for the Scottish Beaver Trial, a five-year study to explore how beavers can benefit the environment.
In an unrelated incident, beavers were illegally released in Tayside and we are removing animals that have appeared in the Beauly catchment area.
Nevertheless, in November 2016 we announced we would allow beavers to remain in Scotland subject to a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA). The HRA is complete and the consultation on beavers in Scotland closed in December 2017. We published the analysis of the responses to consultation in October 2018.
Beavers as a protected species
Beavers are a protected species under European law, and we expect to give them protected status in Scotland in due course.
Once beavers are protected, culling licences will be carefully managed by NatureScot and will only be issued in accordance with the law on European Protected Species.
We are working with NFUS to agree arrangements for controlling beavers where they pose the risk of seriously damaging agriculture and infrastructure.