Beavers in Scotland: consultation on the strategic environmental assessment

A consultation on the policy to reintroduce beavers to Scotland and the strategic environmental assessment of this policy.

1. Introduction

1.1 Beavers in Scotland Policy Objective

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 now 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

This assessment will consider the environmental effects arising from Scottish Ministers policy in relation to the reintroduction of beavers into Argyll and Tayside in Scotland. The policy relates to the two areas highlighted on Map 1 (Beaver Policy Areas). The assessment and the Environmental Report ( ER) are underpinned by the Beavers in Scotland report (2015). This report is a distillation of the findings from a considerable body of research on the interactions beavers may have on the natural and human environments. To ensure proportionality, the Environmental Report focusses on those key significant environmental effects identified in the BiS report. To aid those wishing fuller more detailed analysis, the BiS report has been included as Annex 1.

Map 1 - Locations of Knapdale (Argyll) and Tayside Beaver Policy Areas

Map 1 - Locations of Knapdale (Argyll) and Tayside Beaver Policy Areas

1.2 Purpose of the SEA and compliance with the Habitats Directive

The Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005 relates to those plans or programmes (including policy frameworks), produced by a Scottish public body and required by legislative, regulatory or administrative provision. Strategic Environmental Assessment ( SEA) is required where it is considered that there will be likely significant environmental effects arising from the plan or policy. Further, in this case, Section 5(3) (b) of the 2005 Act 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. Article 6(3) of the Directive (and regulation 48 of the Regulations) requires that any plan or project which is not directly connected with or necessary to the management of a Natura site, but which would be likely to have a significant effect on such a site, either individually or in combination with other plans and projects, shall be the subject of an appropriate assessment of its impacts, in view of the site's conservation objectives.

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 way in which this question is framed reflects the degree to which the precautionary principle is written into the Habitats Directive, and consequently the Habitats Regulations and means that proof of the negative is required before consent can be given.

An HRA of the 'Beavers in Scotland' Policy has been carried out on Natura sites in the two beaver areas - Argyll and Tayside. This includes all the Natura sites which by virtue of their qualifying interests, were likely to be significantly affected by beavers. The HRA has been appended as Annex 2.

The findings from the HRA have been integrated into the assessment of the effects on those related elements of the biodiversity sections in this SEA.

1.3 Policy context

Assessing the need for beaver reintroduction has a legal basis. The key legal driver has been the Habitats Directive. Article 22 of this Directive 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). All of this should be considered in the context of the 2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity, a strategy launched by the Scottish Government in 2013 to protect and restore Scotland's biodiversity, in response to the Aichi Targets set by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. It aims to:

  • Protect and restore biodiversity on land and in our seas, and to support healthier ecosystems
  • Connect people with the natural world, for their health and wellbeing and to involve them more in decisions about their environment
  • Maximise the benefits for Scotland of a diverse natural environment and the services it provides, contributing to sustainable economic growth

SNH started investigating the feasibility and desirability of reintroducing beavers to Scotland in 1995, as part of its 'Species Action Programme'. A number of reviews and assessments were run during the 1990s, culminating in a national consultation in 1998. However, it wasn't until the Action Framework launched in 2007 by SNH that, shortly afterwards, a licence application was submitted by the Scottish Wildlife Trust ( SWT) and Royal Zoological Society of Scotland ( RZSS) to undertake the 'Scottish Beaver Trial' ( SBT), a trial reintroduction at Knapdale. Permission was granted by the Scottish Government, and animals were released in 2009, followed by five years of monitoring.

1.4 Related Plans, Programmes and Strategies

The related plans, programmes and strategies that affect or could be affected by the Beavers in Scotland policy can be categorised into those relating to nature conservation legislation, animal welfare, water and flood risk management and environmental liability. Appendix 2 provides a synopsis of this list and a summary is provided below:

Nature conservation legislation and strategies

In addition to the requirements of the Habitats Directive and Habitats Regulations detailed in section 1.2 above, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981,(as amended) requires any release of beavers into the wild to require a non-native species licence as beavers are classed as a former native species. The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 may trigger the need for consent from SNH if beavers are released onto a SSSI which then subsequently have the potential to affect other notified features. The Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003 may require consultation with relevant district salmon fisheries boards, fishery owners and SEPA where riverine habitat is modified by beaver activity.

The Species Action Framework (2007) included Eurasian beaver as a species for conservation action.

Animal welfare

The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 ensures that the welfare of beavers are considered when the animals are capture, transported or held in captivity and during and after release into the wild.

Water and flood risk management

The Water Framework Directive and related domestic legislation means that the management of beaver on a site might result in a Controlled Activities Regulations ( CAR) application to SEPA. The Floods Directive and related domestic legislation may require strategic and local flood risk management planning to take account of potential beaver activity in managing flood risk sustainably. The Reservoirs (Scotland) Act 2011 may require more frequent inspections of some controlled reservoirs, and plans for new reservoirs may need to take into account beaver activity in the area.

Environmental Liability

The Environmental Liability Directive 2004 and related domestic legislation requires that any operators who kill beavers or damage their breeding sites or resting places, when a protected species, may be held financially liable for remedying the situation.

1.5 Consultation on the Environmental Report

The 12 week consultation period on this Environmental Report and its Non-Technical Summary will run from Tuesday 12th December 2017 until Tuesday 6th March 2018. The documents are available to view as printed versions at The Scottish Government, Victoria Quay, Leith, EH6 6QQ.

Responses to the consultation should be sent to John Gray, Natural Resources Division, The Scottish Government, 3G-South, Victoria Quay, Leith, EH6 6QQ.


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