Posted on Jan 25, 2017
At the end of November 2016 the Scottish Government made the announcement that beavers will be recognised as a Native British Species.
Wild beavers have been extinct in Scotland for around 400 years but in 2009 a trial reintroduction of beavers, primarily operated by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, began in Knapdale, Argyll. This saw Eurasian beavers reintroduced into the wild under controlled conditions, the first formal mammal reintroduction in UK history.
Research has shown that beavers can provide important biodiversity benefits, including improving water quality by holding silt beneath the dams, creating new wetlands that support a wide range of other species and contributing to woodland management by naturally coppicing trees. The re-introduction of beavers may also provide opportunities to boost wildlife tourism in Scotland, with beaver webcams, hides, and photography opportunities all prospects for the future.
The Scottish Government has now confirmed that, following a formal Habitats Regulations Assessment, the beavers’ specification as a British Native Species will be official. Controversially this status will also extend to the two rogue beaver colonies on the banks of the River Tay. Whilst not forming part of the official trial the Tayside beavers colonised the area following illegal releases into the wild. Both colonies of beavers will be allowed to remain and expand their habitat naturally. Any further unlicensed release of beavers into the wild will however still be a criminal offence, punishable by a maximum of two years in jail and an unlimited fine.
As a native species, beavers will be afforded protection under the Conservation (Natural Habitats Regulations etc.) Regulations 1994. The Scottish Government have advised that the beaver population will be closely controlled and monitored so as to minimise and mitigate the potential effect on farmers and land owners, some of whom will be concerned about the ongoing negative impact of beavers on their land.
Landowners will not need a licence to use certain land management techniques, which include:
Where there is no other solution, and it will not affect the conservation status of the species, licences can be granted for more intensive management techniques from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) under specified circumstances and in accordance with the Habitats Regulations. This provides a certain level of control to landowners to prevent damage to agriculture, fisheries and forestry.
It is important to remember that any management techniques that include disturbance of beaver lodges/burrows, possession, control, transportation or killing require a licence. SNH strongly discourages lethal control as a solution. This is because the direct removal of a beaver leaves the territory open for another beaver to take over. Landowners should take account of animal welfare issues and refrain from using management techniques against female beavers between April and September when they may have dependent young.
Nicola McKnight is a Trainee Solicitor in our specialist Land and Rural Business Team. If you have any queries about this or any other agriculatural topic please contact a member of our Land and Rural Business Team.
Categories: Land and Rural Business