Beavers, initially widespread throughout Britain, were last recorded in Scotland in the 16 th century. Consideration of the feasibility and desirability of reintroducing beavers to Scotland started in 1995 and culminated in the 'Beavers in Scotland' ( BiS) report produced by Scottish Natural Heritage on behalf of the Scottish Government and published in June 2015.
Following completion of the Scottish Beaver Trial at Knapdale, the work of the Tayside Beaver Study Group and related projects and initiatives, Scottish Ministers are minded to allow beavers to remain in Scotland.
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
Requirement for Strategic Environmental Assessment ( SEA)
Section 5(3) (b) of the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005 triggers the need for SEA where likely significant effects on the interests of sites designated in terms of the EU Directive 92/43/ EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild flora and fauna (the Habitats Directive) have been identified as requiring assessment in terms of Article 6 or 7 of that Directive (an appropriate assessment).
The Habitats Regulations
Habitats Regulations Appraisal ( HRA) is the term used to describe the procedure required by regulation 48 of The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994, (as amended) (The 'Habitats Regulations'). These regulations transpose the Habitats Directive into Scottish law. HRA is a rigorous, precautionary procedure that examines the potential negative effects on Natura sites of a plan or project; and which, by the end of the procedure must allow the competent authority to come to a firm conclusion as to whether there are no adverse effects on the integrity of Natura sites. The HRA has been appended as Annex 2.
Related Plans, Programmes and Strategies
One of the key drivers for this Policy is the Habitats Directive and in particular, Article 22 of this Directive which states that EU Member States should:
'… study the desirability of re-introducing species in Annex IV that are native to their territory where this might contribute to their conservation, provided that an investigation, also taking into account experience in other Member States or elsewhere, has established that such re-introduction contributes effectively to re-establishing these species at a favourable conservation status and that it takes place only after proper consultation of the public concerned.'
The Eurasian, or European, beaver Castor fiber is one of the species listed in Annex IV. There are also other international legal instruments which refer to reintroductions in a more general sense, such as the 'Bern Convention' of 1979 and the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992).
Other key plans and policy documents likely to influence the Beaver Policy are those that relate to biodiversity, including the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy, animal welfare and water and flood risk management.
2. SEA Methodology
Topics within the scope of the assessment
Given the requirements of the Habitats Directive, the focus of the SEA will be on the effects on biodiversity issues. However, beavers are considered to be ''ecosystem engineers.' They undertake various activities such as felling trees, creating dams/ponds, direct herbivory, which can result in changes to the structure and composition of their surrounding habitat. Accordingly, impacts on population and human health, water, cultural heritage and material assets have also been considered. Impacts on landscape, climatic factors and air were considered to be outwith scope. Impacts on soils were initially considered to be within scope, but as the assessment progressed, it was considered more meaningful to consider this in terms of effects on water resources, and biodiversity.
The focus of the assessment will be on the environmental effects arising from the policy to allow the beaver populations in Knapdale and Tayside to remain. Beaver activity is restricted to freshwater and associated riparian habitats, in particular broadleaved woodland which provides a key source of food and materials for building structures although there can be indirect impacts outwith the riparian zone if there is hydrological connectivity.
The findings of the assessment are reported in a narrative form with each receptor considered in turn as follows:
- A broad assessment of how beaver activity affects the receptor
- A table summarising an overview of the broad positive and negative effects of beavers on that receptor
- Where possible, details of the distribution of the receptor within the Beaver Policy Area and
- An assessment of the likely effects on important receptors within the Beaver Policy Area, including identifying any cumulative effects and links to mitigation measures and monitoring proposals where appropriate.
Based on experience of mitigation techniques and practice from elsewhere in Europe and North America and from some trial work in Scotland, there is sufficient evidence that the majority of the adverse effects identified can be satisfactorily and straightfowardly mitigated to avoid significant effects. Given that much of the same mitigation can be applied to many of the different receptors, this has been pulled together into one section ( section 5) to avoid repetition throughout the document. This mitigation has been signposted in each section.
A list of environmental objectives relating to each of the receptors sets the context against which the identification of positive and negative effects has been reported in Section 2.
Limitations of the Assessment
There are a number of limitations associated with this assessment, not least with predicting the impact on the environment from the reintroduction of a wild animal. These include:
- Data collection - the two Beaver Policy Areas do not coincide with local authority areas which can present complications on compiling data which is often available on a local authority basis.
- The identification of cumulative and long and short term effects is complex when dealing with the interactions of a wild animal and its environment
- The under-recording of positive effects - due to the precautionary nature of the Habitats Regulations and in order to focus the assessment particularly on the identification of mitigation and monitoring opportunities, the positive effects have been recorded largely in terms of a general overview.
3. Environmental Characteristics
Core Beaver Woodland
The assessment has focussed on the geographical areas containing the two wild populations of beaver present at Knapdale in Argyll and centred around Tayside. These areas are mapped in section 3 and Appendix 1. The extent of the policy area is determined by the likely extent of habitat to accommodate the establishment of beaver territories - identified as 'potential core beaver woodland.
Beavers set up territories in areas of suitable habitat. A GIS-based tool has been developed to try and predict where such areas may occur based on the following characteristics: areas of suitable broadleaved woodland and shrubs (to provide a food and building source); located within 50m of freshwater; comprised of streams with less than a 15% gradient; and not within tidal areas. At least 1.9km of woodland has to occur within 4km river bank sections.
The Knapdale beaver policy area is 64,978 ha in size and Tayside comprises 1,140,075 ha. In terms of the amount of potential core woodland in the policy areas, this extends to 970 hectares (ha) in Knapdale (less than 1.5% of the total Knapdale Beaver Policy Area) and 14,717 ha in Tayside (less than 1.3%).
Environmental characteristics of the Beaver Policy Areas
Both Knapdale and Tayside Beaver Policy Areas contain significant and rich biodiversity interest, reflected in the high proportion of internationally and nationally important designations. There are 192 designated sites within the two Areas.
In terms of water quality, watercourses in Knapdale, where recorded along potential core beaver woodland are primarily good status, and there are no areas of poor/bad status. In Tayside, all classes of watercourses along potential core beaver woodland are recorded, ranging from high, good, moderate, poor and bad water quality status.
The characteristics of the two Beaver Policy areas vary considerably in terms of the characteristics of population and human activity. Knapdale has a small number of small settlements mainly on the shores of Loch Fyne and all within Argyll and Bute Council. Tayside, while also predominantly rural, is far more populated and includes the cities of Dundee and Perth and a number of medium sized settlements. The Tayside Beaver Policy Area falls into 8 Local Authority Areas and has a greater intensity of landuse. The human population in the Tayside Beaver Policy Area is projected to increase.
In Knapdale, there are nine Scheduled Monuments, and one Garden and Designed Landscape overlapping with core beaver woodland and there are no identified Battlefield sites. This compares in Tayside to 97 Scheduled Monuments, 54 Gardens and Designed Landscapes and 5 Battlefield sites.
In terms of Material Assets,
- Both Beaver Policy Areas contain a considerable amount of commercial conifer forestry, however, the overlap with core beaver woodland is limited. There is a greater proportion of commercially managed broadleaved woodland in Tayside which will be more accessible to beavers.
- The streams in the Knapdale Beaver Policy Area provide spawning habitat for those fish present in connected standing waters and lochs are popular trout fishing areas. The River Tay supports significant recreational fisheries for Atlantic salmon, trout (including sea trout) and grayling. It is one of the most iconic of the Scottish Atlantic salmon rivers and the number of rod-caught Atlantic salmon makes it one of the most important catchments for this species in the UK.
- There is no prime agricultural land in the Knapdale Beaver Policy Area although there is other improved grassland present. In Tayside the significant extent of prime agricultural land is located in the eastern lowlands of the study area.
- In terms of infrastructure, Tayside is a more populated area with a greater intensity of land use and major road infrastructure. The opportunities for beaver activity to impinge upon a range of land uses, and the associated infrastructure, are much higher than in Knapdale.
Evolution of the environment in the absence of the Policy
In the autumn of 2016 surveys indicated there were 8-10 animals still present in the Knapdale SBT area, comprising two to three breeding pairs with an unknown number of kits, born earlier that year. The Tayside beaver population was estimated to comprise 38-39 beaver occupied territories in 2012. In the absence of the policy, there is a high risk that the population in Knapdale face the threat of extinction, while modelling has shown that the population of beavers in the Tayside area is predicted to expand but the rate and distribution will be difficult to model because control of the population would be unregulated. The effects on the other environmental receptors will remain the same.
In respect of genetic implications for the two populations, without the policy and therefore the prospect of further releases, genetic considerations to date suggest that the risk of inbreeding depression with respect to the Knapdale population cannot be ruled out. The population on Tayside did not come about as a founder population; uncertainty remains as to whether the population has sufficient genetic diversity to ensure long term viability.
Existing environmental issues in the Beaver Policy Areas
The effects of the Policy on existing environmental issues within the two Beaver Policy Areas are detailed in Section 4.
4. Environmental Assessment
An overview of beaver ecology, including the distribution of beaver habitat is considered in this section to set the context for the assessment of environmental effects on other receptors. Beavers are semi-aquatic and are reliant on water to escape potential predators. They feed on a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial plant species, and live in lodges or burrows, usually with underwater entrances. They construct dams to retain water, create feeding areas, provide safe refuge and allow for travel and movement of logs and branches.
- Beavers and woodland
The main mechanisms by which beavers affect riparian woodland are tree-felling for food and construction, and flooding. They generally avoid conifers, but will use most native broadleaved tree species that occur in Scotland, and other non-native broadleaved trees. Within the Beaver Policy Areas there are 90 woodland sites which are afforded European or national protection.
Due to their activities, beavers have a variety of positive effects on woodland structure, leading to a greater diversity of age classes, particularly in even-aged stands, improving the variety of species present in woodlands and potentially creating hot spots of biodiversity through the creation of increased levels of standing dead wood.
Many of the ninety sites identified in this analysis are currently in unfavourable condition and do not meet their site attribute targets for volume of deadwood, level of grazing / browsing, structural diversity (i.e. number of different age classes of target tree species) or evidence of regeneration. Beaver activity has the potential to address some of these failing targets.
Conversely, selective browsing can lead to reduced tree diversity as well as reduced tree and shrub growth and regrowth, particularly within 30m of freshwater where the large majority of beaver browsing activity takes place. The main factor causing unfavourable condition across Scottish woodlands is grazing / browsing pressure from herbivores (largely deer and sheep). At present, saplings can be considered 'safe' from further browsing once they get to a certain size (the specific size varies with the species). However, since beavers are able to fell quite large trees, this will no longer be the case in areas colonised by beavers for a reasonable length of time. Continuation of woodland will depend on coppice regrowth from the felled stumps or suckering from roots. Whilst all native Scottish broadleaves are able to coppice or sucker, if the regrowth is subsequently eaten by deer, sheep, or other large herbivores, there could be a simplification in the structure of the woodland, and possibly deterioration or even loss of the woodland habitat.
Any potential adverse impacts on the woodland interest could be mitigated through increased herbivore management measures (upon deer, goats, sheep, or beavers as appropriate) before they occur, such as fencing and tree protection. Signs of over-grazing can be detected before any adverse impacts result. Impacts should be monitored using the Woodland Grazing Toolbox methodology.
- Beavers and bryophytes, fungi and lichens
Bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), fungi and lichens are diverse groups of organisms that make up a large proportion of Scotland's biodiversity. This diversity means that there will be a variety of positive and negative effects on these species. This is dependent on the requirements of the organisms and their response to changes brought about by beaver activity such as an increase in the amount of wet woodland, an increase in the amount of deadwood or opening the canopy to allow more light to reach the woodland floor, for example. Any mitigation required will therefore be specific to the requirements of the different species. Site condition monitoring will be required to identify any impacts and therefore develop specific mitigation accordingly.
- Beavers and terrestrial vascular plants
There are two main mechanisms through which beavers affect vascular plants: directly by being eaten and indirectly through successional habitat change (tree-felling, changes in water levels and changes in wave action). There is limited scientific information on the impacts of beavers on terrestrial herbaceous vascular plants so it is possible to provide only a tentative prediction of possible future impacts.
Some terrestrial plant species might be expected to benefit from beaver activity in riparian habitat, whilst shade-loving species might decline. Terrestrial species which are associated with a high water table are expected to benefit from habitat creation by beavers.
Beavers are strictly herbivores; they have a very varied diet with strict seasonality and have been recorded eating around 80 different types of tree species and nearly 150 others plant species including aquatic macrophytes and herbaceous plants. Diet selection appears to be based on nutrient requirements and not necessarily related to local abundance. There are only a limited number of terrestrial herbaceous vascular plants of conservation importance found in the core beaver woodland in the Beaver Policy Areas and of these, only a few have the potential to be adversely affected by beaver activity. Site condition monitoring and appropriate mitigation can be employed to address potential adverse effects.
- Beavers and invertebrates
The current literature suggests that the effects of beaver impoundments on aquatic invertebrates are mostly positive. By building dams and digging small canals, beavers create and extend wetland micro-habitats that support many invertebrate taxa. Beaver dams change the predominantly flowing character of aquatic ecosystems to a mixture of flowing and still conditions, which is of particular benefit to predatory invertebrates. The wetland micro-habitat created by beavers attracts water beetle colonists and several species of dragonflies and damselflies, which are at the top of the food pyramid. A possible negative effect relates to impacts on freshwater pearl mussel if migration of salmonid hosts is affected by the presence of dams, although dams may also benefit the juvenile mussels by filtering out finer sediments.
Mitigation measures will concentrate on addressing issues to mitigate the impact of beaver foraging and damming activity.
- Beavers and amphibians and reptiles
Beaver activity results in the creation of ponds and slow-moving water, the changing of water tables and development of wetland habitat, all of which will generally benefit Scottish amphibians. Scotland has six native amphibian species:
- Frogs and toads- common frog, common toad and natterjack toad
- Newts - smooth newt, palmate newt and great crested newt
An indirect negative effect might arise from the predation on amphibians from fish which use the impounded ponds created by beaver dams or which become accessible to fish through construction of canals.
In terms of reptiles, effects on the three known native species are likely to be incidental. Viviparous lizards and adders can persist in wetland habitats but they are sub-optimal for them. Beaver foraging thins out woodland canopy, which could lead to greater insolation of the woodland floor and a potential increase in microhabitats with thermoregulatory benefits to reptiles, depending on the pattern of regrowth and ground flora regeneration. The grass snake (which may start to colonise southern Scotland as environmental temperatures increase) could benefit from beaver activity as it often hunts in water, and frogs can be a major prey component. They lay eggs in piles of rotting vegetation, notably compost heaps, where increased temperatures speed up the development of the young. Detritus within beaver lodge structures can provide such conditions.
Great crested newt is of international importance and it is likely that effects will be largely positive as a result of beaver activity. Localised negative effects relate to predation from fish and changes to plant composition which may affect the preferred plant species on which the newts lay their eggs. There may also be some risk of waterlogging of hibernacula.
- Beavers and birds
The main mechanism for beavers influencing bird biodiversity is the increase in wetland areas available for nesting and feeding. In particular this will benefit a variety of species of waterfowl, herons and kingfisher. While the effects are largely positive, attention will be needed to ensure any damming activity does not affect water levels in lochs being used by breeding black-throated divers. Mitigation measures are detailed in section 5.
- Beavers and Mammals
Beaver activity may influence the local distribution and abundance of other mammal species in a number of ways, some of which may have a positive and some a negative effect. Many native species that occur in Scotland, such as bats, water vole and Eurasian otter are likely to benefit from the creation of new wetlands, from the construction of lodges and creation of burrow systems and from the creation of newly coppiced riparian woodland. Potential negative effects may arise from the construction of beaver dams which may restrict the movement of migratory fish which are a prey species for otters. There could also be benefits for the invasive non-native American mink. It is unclear how this species will respond to an increasing beaver population but will require monitoring to pick up any resulting threats on for example, water vole.
- Beavers and freshwater - running water
Beaver dams will impede the flow (quantity and velocity) of water in a channel. The extent to which they do will depend upon their height and porosity and the frequency at which they occur. Beaver dams therefore increase the in-channel storage of water. Beaver dams will not only attenuate flow but also impede the movement of sediment. The construction of beaver dams and ponds introduces many additional habitats to river reaches, resulting in a substantial increase in habitat diversity, the spatial complexity of the habitat mosaic and the overall resilience of river and riparian ecosystems to disturbances.
Beaver activity is unlikely to adversely affect any running freshwater habitat of conservation importance and therefore mitigation is unlikely. Should future monitoring identify unforeseen issues, the mitigation measures detailed in section 5 would address any significant adverse effects.
- Beavers and freshwater - standing water and wetlands
Beavers affect standing freshwater and wetland habitats through the effects of dam-building activities and foraging activities. A complex set of positive and negative effects can be experienced. For example, dams constructed on influent streams and which lead to the development of ponds may attenuate flows and reduce the pollutant loading of lochs. Ponds and wetland complexes created by beavers may also act as pollutant sinks and buffer against the effects of drought, and provide new habitat for aquatic plant species to colonise. Conversely, dam-building activities can also result in flooding of terrestrial land upstream or adjacent to lochs and ponds. Similarly, foraging activities can lead to both positive and negative effects, such as a localised loss of some plant species and the emergence of others which might have previously been submerged.
The mitigation measures identified in section 5 will ensure that adverse effects can be satisfactorily addressed.
- Beavers and fish
Eurasian beaver would have co-existed with native fish fauna in Scotland for millennia before the extinction of beavers in the 16 th century. Beavers are likely to impact on fish species, mainly from changing the structure of the riparian woodland through foraging activity and changing the riverine habitat from running water to still water through damming activity. There will be both positive and negative effects on the variety of Scottish fish species from these activities. There are effective mitigation measures available to address adverse effects which are detailed in section 5.
Population and Human Health
Beavers can contribute positively to human well-being by providing recreational and educational opportunities and engagement with a charismatic species.
There are a number of potentially localised negative effects on settlements and households such as blocked drains and culverts experienced where properties may overlap with core beaver woodland or indirect impacts where there is hydrological connectivity. The scale and significance of the resulting impacts will vary according to local circumstances but in most situations management will be required, with associated costs. Mitigation techniques are well established elsewhere in Europe and North American and adverse effects can be mitigated by protection measures detailed more fully in section 5.
While the risks to human health are negligible, or low, there are a number of parasites or diseases associated with beavers which are more fully detailed in section 4.12. Mitigation of potential adverse health effects include health screening before the release of any animal and continued health surveillance of both beaver populations.
There is the potential for beaver activity to affect historic or culturally important sites. This is through, for example, burrowing causing subsidence, or dam-building causing localised floods, and foraging of vegetation.
There is also a cultural value that people and local communities place on having beavers reintroduced into the environment. This was illustrated in the public support for the reintroduction which came out of the public consultation and survey work in particular.
From monitoring carried out at Knapdale on Loch Coille-Bharr crannog and on the Crinan Canal, the likelihood of impacts on historic monuments within the core beaver woodland from beaver activity was considered to be low. However it was also considered appropriate to identify and prioritise those structures that may be potentially vulnerable in riparian areas and monitor any beaver activity.
In terms of impacts on Gardens and Designed Landscapes, within core beaver woodland areas, there is the potential for adverse effects arising from the felling of trees and shrubs and foraging of vegetation. Again these adverse effects can be mitigated by protection measures detailed more fully in section 5.
The main mechanisms by which beavers affect woodland are tree-felling (for food and construction) and flooding. Most Scottish forestry relies on conifers, therefore beavers are unlikely to have much impact through felling. However, none of the major coniferous species is tolerant of prolonged flooding, so beaver impoundments would lead to the death of trees within the flooded area. Flooding could also affect forestry infrastructure (e.g. forest tracks, culverts) and access for forest management, deer management and recreation, where it overlaps with inundated areas. The potential for beavers to affect forestry in Tayside is greater, as broadleaved tree species are managed commercially in parts of this area and, because of the flatter terrain, a greater proportion of the land is accessible to beavers.
There are a number of positive benefits in terms of commercial forestry activities and achieving multi-benefit forestry, particularly in terms of enhancing management of riparian edges, increased biodiversity associated with an increase in deadwood, improvement in the hydrological cycle and the recreational benefits to the forest estate.
There are established mitigation measures to address adverse effects which are detailed in section 5.
From a fisheries perspective, it is likely that the two species which are most likely to be influenced by the presence of beavers are Atlantic salmon and trout. There are a number of positive and negative effects from beavers on the fisheries interest. Beaver activities and dam-building may have positive effects on factors such as water quality downstream. Conversely, obstructions at the downstream end of important tributaries, such as those used by the spring stock component of Atlantic salmon populations, may impede access to important spawning areas.
In streams where beaver and salmonid habitats may overlap, interactions will vary over time, between catchments and within catchments. As such, it is not possible to predict with certainty whether the overall net impact of beaver presence will be positive, negative or negligible on salmonid fish or other species of conservation importance. However, beaver dam-building activity, and the associated potential hindrance to fish passage, is of particular conservation concern to the spring component of the Atlantic salmon populations which utilise upland nutrient-poor streams.
The fisheries resource in Knapdale is largely limited to brown trout because anadromous salmonids (Atlantic salmon and sea trout) are not able to migrate freely into the Knapdale Forest area due to local topography. The River Tay supports significant recreational fisheries for Atlantic salmon, trout (including sea trout) and grayling. It is one of the most iconic of the Scottish Atlantic salmon rivers and the number of rod-caught Atlantic salmon makes it one of the most important catchments for this species in the UK. On the River Tay, dam building will not occur on the in the downstream, wide and deep river sections but will expand into small water courses, both in the lower catchment and into upland streams which are particularly important for the spring Atlantic salmon stock component.
In terms of mitigation, there are a number of measures recommended in section 5 to ensure free passage of migratory fish and the importance of a management strategy for salmon has been highlighted.
Infrastructure and general land use will tend to be at risk only where they are in proximity to beaver activity, and therefore near running and standing waters. Impacts can arise from the direct and indirect implications of dam-building, burrowing and tree-felling. Since beavers readily use natural, semi-natural and artificial waterbodies, the likelihood of beavers sometimes coming into contact with human infrastructure is high. The scale and significance of the resulting impacts will vary according to local circumstances, but in most situations management will be required, with associated costs.
Because of the limited infrastructure in the Knapdale Beaver Policy area, impacts are likely to be focussed on forestry infrastructure. However, it is recommended that monitoring should be carried out along the Crinan canal for any beaver burrowing activity.
Tayside is more populated than Knapdale with a greater intensity of land use, and so the scope for beaver activity to impinge upon a range of land uses, and the associated infrastructure, is much greater.
There are a number of methods that can be used to protect infrastructure interests and in some cases it may be prudent to protect especially sensitive interests before problems arise. This is more achievable for small-scale structures, such as culverts under roads. Consideration of fuller mitigation measures are detailed in section 5.
As beaver distribution is always associated with running or standing water, the potential for beaver activity to have an impact on agricultural interests is limited to where they occur in the vicinity of streams, rivers, drainage ditches, wetlands, lochs or ponds. As a result, there are unlikely to be significant direct impacts on prime agricultural land, i.e. land capability classification Class 1 and Class 2. However, there are likely to be a number of indirect and locally significant effects. These can include blocking of drains and drainage ditches and small watercourses causing localised flooding, bank erosion from burrowing, loss of crops from foraging and felling of trees of commercial value. Positive effects can also arise from improvement to water quality and the hydrological cycle and water flow maintenance.
There is no prime agricultural land in the Knapdale Beaver Policy Area although there is other improved grassland present. In Tayside, it is located in the eastern lowlands of the study area where it is extensive. There are a number of specific measures that could be employed to assist with the management issues arising from beaver impacts. Further mitigation measures are detailed in section 5.
Section 4 identifies how beavers can have a wide range of interactions with both the natural and human environment. These interactions can be both positive and negative. Where negative effects have been identified, there is a range of measures which can be readily employed to avoid, mitigate and/or compensate for these impacts.
This section details these measures which range from the development of a management strategy, delivery of guidance and training to help avoid adverse effects, to the development of a licensing scheme to enable management to reduce or eliminate impacts from beaver activity. It also details site specific measures to address the key beaver activities of dam-building, burrowing and foraging. These measures will be developed in consultation with the Scottish Beaver Forum, a group which comprises, Scottish Government, government agencies, wildlife conservation, land and fishery management organisations.
6. Assessment of alternatives
The Beavers in Scotland report set out 4 potential policy scenarios for beavers in Scotland, ranging from the full removal of beavers to the widespread reintroduction of beavers. The 4 policy alternatives considered are:
- Scenario 1 - full removal of beavers from the wild in Scotland
- Scenario 2 - restricted range. Allowing beavers to expand from their current range, but specific catchments would be managed to keep them free from beavers.
- Scenario 3 - widespread recolonisation. The beaver population would be allowed to expand to its natural limits. Eventually this could include further releases outside the two current population areas.
- Scenario 4 - accelerated widespread recolonisation. Proposals for new releases could be considered immediately.
The policy agreed by Scottish Ministers draws from both scenarios 2 and 3 in the report. That is:
- 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.
Undertaking the SEA has enabled a clear audit of key receptors and identification of the priority monitoring requirements. The monitoring programme will help to ensure that where mitigation measures have been employed to address a potential adverse impact that these measures are effective. To ensure that the monitoring captures the effectiveness of mitigation measures, a survey and monitoring protocol will be developed in consultation with the Scottish Beaver Forum. Monitoring proposals will make use of existing activities such as SNH's Site Condition Monitoring programme and will also establish the effectiveness of trial mitigation measures undertaken in partnership with land and fisheries managers.
Monitoring and research will be driven by an adaptive management approach. The outcomes of trials and monitoring results will enable SNH to modify their conservation management and guidance for natural heritage, socio-economic, land, fisheries and infrastructure managers.