Beaver welfare: Scottish Animal Welfare Commission report
A report on the welfare of beavers in Scotland by the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission.
Appendix I – Questionnaire sent to stakeholders
SAWC – Beaver subgroup
Overall aim: To investigate and make recommendations on welfare issues associated with the management and control of wild beavers in Scotland.
Background: Since 2009 beavers have been reintroduced to Scotland under licence in a trial at Knapdale, Argyll by RZSS and SWT. Covert releases on Tayside resulted in the establishment of an unofficial population which is now spreading and growing. The beaver was recognised as a protected native species by the Scottish Government in May 2019, including the unofficial Tayside population. As beaver populations continue to grow, they will require management to prevent economic loss to landholders and fisheries. Management of beaver populations may involve non-lethal and lethal methods, which both have implications for beaver welfare. In 2020 87 beavers were culled in the Tayside population. There is no indication of attempts at non-lethal mitigation in any of these cases and none of the culled beavers was made available for post mortem examination.
There are several welfare issues associated with the management and control of beavers including:
1. Previous studies on culled beavers have shown that inappropriate firearms have been used inexpertly to kill beavers, which may result in wounding of animals that die after long periods of suffering prior to death.
2. There is no close season on culling of beavers that are causing damage to livelihoods, although licences to cull beavers are supposed to avoid the kit dependency period from April to August. There is a concern that dependent young may suffer if their parents are killed in this period and social groups may be adversely disrupted by ad hoc killing of beavers from a colony.
3. It is unclear if landowners are attempting non-lethal control measures to prevent damage before resorting to culling that could increase the frequency of issues in 1. and 2.
4. Shooting appears to be the preferred method of lethal control, but are other more humane methods available?
The aim of the SAWC Beaver subgroup is to contact all relevant stakeholders in order to:
1. To review the evidence for the kinds of economic damage caused by beavers in Scotland
2. To review the mitigations that are available to address these problems and to see if any are currently implemented
3. To review and gather further evidence on the shooting of beavers in Scotland and its impact on welfare including the training for use of firearms
4. To review evidence on the breeding cycle of beavers in Scotland that could inform the kit dependency period
Timescale: 1st March to 1st June 2021
1. What is the evidence for the type, frequency and scale of economic losses caused by beavers in Scotland in the past five years? Are there any trends in these losses?
2. What is the evidence for the type and frequency of use of non-lethal mitigation to prevent damage caused by beavers in Scotland in the past five years?
3. At what point after damage has been caused by beavers and/or mitigations are attempted are requests for licences to cull beavers made?
4. When licences are issued for culling beavers, are any checks made or evidence supplied to demonstrate damage and economic loss by beavers and failed attempts at mitigation?
5. Are licences issued in the kit dependency period (April-August) for culling beavers?
6. Is training a requirement for all users of firearms who cull beavers? What checks are made to ensure that training has been undertaken and that the firearms used are appropriate?
7. How many beavers have been culled each year in the last five years? How many were submitted for post-mortem examination? How many were killed using an inappropriate firearm or suffered significantly if not killed immediately?
8. Do you think the current legislation is sufficient to protect the welfare of beavers in Scotland both individually and at a population viability level?
9. Do you think there is clear advice available for non-lethal control of beavers? Would you welcome clear advice and use it?
10. Do you think the training offered to users of firearms for culling beavers is adequate and licence conditions sufficient to ensure that the welfare of beavers is not compromised?
11. Do you think proof of use of non-lethal mitigations for a specific period should be a condition of issuing licences to cull beavers?
12. Do you think the level of evidence or checks required for the issuing of licences to cull beavers is appropriate?
13. Should all beavers be collected for post-mortem examination to provide evidence on welfare aspects of shooting?
14. Do you support a clear closed season corresponding to the kit dependency period?
15. Do you think Scotland needs a beaver translocation strategy to allow for the reduction of local populations by non-lethal means, which would identify future areas for release within Scotland and the rest of the UK?
16. Do you think welfare issues related to the live trapping and translocation of beavers are sufficiently addressed currently? Is further research required?
17. Do you have any further comments and suggestions concerning the welfare, management and control of beavers in Scotland? Is further research required?
18. Following the judgement from the recent judicial review, do you believe the welfare of wild beavers has been improved in Scotland and if so, how?
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