Beaver welfare: Scottish Animal Welfare Commission report

A report on the welfare of beavers in Scotland by the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission.

6. Ethical analysis and critical issues

The main issue is the conflict between the activities of wild beavers in Scotland, which may have a negative impact on farmers, foresters and anglers, who all have legitimate uses of river (and lake) systems and adjacent riparian land. Because beavers are a European Protected Species, resolving these conflicts requires licences for specific actions issued by NatureScot and overall any removals of beavers whether by shooting or trapping, must not affect the Favourable Conservation Status of the species. The seven principles for ethical wildlife control (Dubois et al., 2017) provide a good framework for considering these issues in order to set out a process and actions that can be followed to minimise negative welfare for beavers and provide effective solutions for landowners, foresters and anglers,

1. Can the problem be mitigated by changing human behaviour, design of infrastructure or use of advanced technology?

A variety of mitigation methods have been developed in Europe and North America in order to prevent or reduce flooding and to protect trees. These are detailed in Gaywood et al. (2015) with the possible welfare issues affecting beavers, if they are not implemented appropriately. For example, reducing water levels to less than 0.8 metres deep upstream of beaver dams through dam notching, flow devices and dam removal could affect beaver welfare and cause the abandonment of lodges. More research may be needed as to effectiveness of different non-lethal mitigation techniques in Scotland and more guidance needs to be provided by NatureScot.

2. Are the harms serious enough to warrant wildlife control?

Beaver activities can cause significant economic harm through loss of crops and trees, if non-lethal mitigation is slow or ineffective. In the judicial review Lady Carmichael stated 'that if serious damage tests are likely to be met it is not necessary to wait until damage has occurred before issuing a licence authorising derogation". Impact on salmonid breeding and migration could cause significant economic loss to salmon fishery boards and anglers, and impact negatively on salmonid populations.

3. Is the desired outcome clear and achievable, and will it be monitored?

Lethal and non-lethal control of beavers could avert significant economic loss, such as flooding of prime agricultural land. However, waiting to see if non-lethal mitigation is effective or the use of live trapping for translocation might not be achievable before such damage was evident. Continued removal of beaver structures might be too big an economic cost to particular landowners, who are affected by high levels of beaver activity. However, if required, methods of lethal control should allow the welfare of the beavers to be assessed to ensure that control is being implemented appropriately.

Beavers are also of economic and environmental benefit, such as reducing flooding or removing silt from rivers, so that a balanced approach should be taken in assessing the costs and benefits on human activities.

4. Does the proposed method carry the least animal welfare cost and to the fewest animals?

Assuming in cases of lethal control that the licensing requirements are followed, the main concern is whether lethal control is carried out humanely and with checks possible on whether the welfare of affected individuals is not negatively affected. The number of animals killed could be minimised by ensuring that non-lethal methods should be tried first including trapping for translocation. However, live trapping and translocation also risk affecting the welfare of beavers.

The issuing of exceptional licences for lethal control and trapping to remove beavers causing local problems during the kit dependency period would still risk affecting the welfare of beaver kits within burrows and lodges. However, it would be difficult to assess accurately how many kits would be affected.

5. Is control socially acceptable?

It is unknown how socially acceptable lethal beaver control is in Scotland, but there is often significant opposition from the general public when lethal control of other wild species is considered.

6. Is the control part of a long-term systematic management and population monitoring?

NatureScot has published a Beaver Management Framework which sets out clear policy, guidance and actions to balance the needs of beaver conservation and associated ecological benefits with impacts on human land use. NatureScot published annual Beaver Management Reports that detail population censuses and controls on beavers. The National Beaver Strategy 2022-2045 was published on 21 September 2022 and provides a very detailed framework and programme for the development of the beaver population, including the need for population monitoring and lethal control, in Scotland.

7. Is control based on specifics and not on negative labels?

The beaver is a reintroduced native species and does not carry a negative label as a pest, except perhaps by landowners and river users who are most affected by their activities. The licensing system should ensure that lethal control is only used when necessary, such as when it threatens livelihoods and public safety.



Back to top