7. Beaver SEA - Monitoring, Survey and Research
Undertaking the SEA has enabled a clear audit of key receptors and identification of the priority monitoring requirements. This will provide a template for the survey and monitoring protocol which will be developed by SNH and partners in 2017 and longer term to assess the impacts of the proposal to allow beavers to remain in Scotland.
7.1 Natural heritage monitoring
Habitat and species changes on designated sites arising from impacts of beavers will largely be covered through the SNH 6 yearly Site Condition Monitoring programme. The next 6 year cycle is due to commence in 2019 and beaver impacts will be part of the assessment. Monitoring results from 2019 onwards can be compared with the baseline established through the previous three SCM cycles. Prior to 2019, SNH will undertake a review to establish whether there will be gaps in the SCM programme and whether the methodology is appropriate.
The key features likely to be monitored are:
- The Natura features on 34 sites identified in the HRA where beaver mitigation plans are required to avoid an adverse effect on site integrity"
- river jelly lichen
- freshwater pearl mussel
- Atlantic salmon
- three species of lamprey - sea, river and brook
- habitat of invertebrates: dragonflies and flies
- woodland habitats of bryophytes, lichens and fungi
- American mink
- woodlands particularly alder woodland on flood plain, bog woodland, scrub woodland and Atlantic hazelwood lichen assemblage and aspen woodland associated with the Spey if beavers colonise
- lowland lochs and wetlands, particularly soligenous mire communities
The findings of SCM will be used to develop habitat and species management plans and promote effective mitigation measures to reduce impacts of beaver. For woodland habitats the impacts should also be monitored using the Woodland Grazing Toolbox methodology.
Outwith designated sites, for those species and habitats of conservation interest in the wider countryside, there will be an ongoing need to assess data derived from general surveillance and monitoring activities that are already in place, and intervene with management if and when necessary.
7.2 Other Environmental monitoring
In addition, in 2017 a survey and monitoring protocol of beaver impacts will be developed in consultation with the Scottish Beaver Forum. This will include monitoring of:
- agriculture - focussed on prime agricultural land
- lowland deer
- fisheries - particularly salmon and trout
- public and animal health if judged appropriate
- cultural heritage interests - key examples are Designed Gardens and associated veteran trees, The Crinan Canal and in standing waters; crannogs.
- infrastructure and property - e.g. canals and associated feeder lochs, fish passes, culverts, drainage systems etc.
- wider socio-economic interests
The information will help refine adaptive management approaches and production of guidance. This will also include collated and coordinated information and surveys of lowland deer populations.
7.3 Beaver surveys and monitoring
- Tayside - A beaver survey of the River Tay catchment was undertaken in 2012 with some further records collated in 2014. A new 2017 survey is currently underway to establish key areas of beaver activity, the population size and the range expansion of the population. This will provide information on population increase and distribution which will aid the production of guidance.
- Knapdale -Surveys have been undertaken in 2016 and 2017 at Knapdale by RZSS to establish the status of the current population, and to inform decisions for reinforcement.
These surveys will contribute towards both the national scale monitoring and reporting of beavers: The Habitats Directive Article 17 Reporting and to inform our management decisions.
7.4 Monitoring of effectiveness of trial mitigation measures
To supplement evidence from European techniques and trials conducted by the Tayside Beaver Study Group, trials will be undertaken in Tayside in partnership with land and fisheries managers to establish the effectiveness of electric fencing, "swept wing fences" on water courses, flow devices in dams, techniques for preventing burrowing into flood banks and fish pass design. The effectiveness of the trials will be monitored and used as case study examples in guidance and will enable feedback so that we can adapt our approach in light of experience.
7.5 Promoting opportunities for further research and monitoring
SNH will work with research partners to further develop and refine geospatial and modelling tools to help predict beaver habitat use, population expansion and re-colonisation and interaction with land uses.
A partnership funded PhD at Southampton University is in its final year and is investigating interactions between trout and beavers, in particular the ability of the fish to migrate in the presence of beaver dams. Ultimately this work will contribute towards the production of guidance for fisheries managers.
SNH will work with key partners to identify research needs develop a programme of work and identify opportunities for taking it forward. These will focus on key topics such as beavers and salmonids, interactions with deer and impact on woodland regeneration, beavers and their role in natural flood management and the efficiency of beaver management techniques.
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.