Public bodies on ‘go slow’ on boosting beaver numbers, campaigners argue

Research found 73% of Scots want action to identify more sites for the animals to establish territories in Scotland.

Campaigners say beavers are ‘key allies in tackling the nature and climate emergencies’
Campaigners say beavers are ‘key allies in tackling the nature and climate emergencies’

Nearly three-quarters of Scots want public bodies to step up action to boost the country’s population of beavers, research suggests.

Polling by Survation on behalf of the Scottish Rewilding Alliance found 73% of respondents said public bodies should identify more sites on their land where beavers can live.

The alliance believes Government agencies are not delivering on ministers’ call to encourage efforts to move beavers into new areas.

The group says Scotland’s nature agency, NatureScot, which issues lethal control licences, has “so far failed” to lead on beaver relocations to its national natural reserves.

The alliance also says Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS), the country’s largest manager of public land, has yet to welcome a single beaver to a site beyond the species’ current range.

It says this perceived lack of delivery has resulted in more than two years of inaction and indecision as well as missed economic opportunities for local communities.

Beavers were driven to extinction in Scotland some 400 years ago, before their official reintroduction in 2016 and recognition as a protected species in 2019.

The animals create wetlands that benefit other wildlife, soak up carbon dioxide, purify water and reduce flooding.

They can also bring economic benefits to communities through eco-tourism, supporters argue.

Kevin Cumming, the Scottish Rewilding Alliance’s deputy convener, said of the Survation research: “This is overwhelming public support for bringing back beavers to suitable habitat.

The alliance describes beavers as a ‘biodiversity-boosting, flood-reducing, habitat-creating species’
The alliance describes beavers as a ‘biodiversity-boosting, flood-reducing, habitat-creating species’

“Government bodies that manage land on behalf of the public need to listen and move ahead on reintroducing these key allies in tackling the nature and climate emergencies.

“Cairngorms National Park Authority is showing what can be done, with beavers released at several sites and plans for more over the next five years.

“Our other public agencies need to play catch-up with the Cairngorms and end their own go-slow approach to restoring this biodiversity-boosting, flood-reducing, habitat-creating species.”

The alliance says relocations should be prioritised when landowners have problems, with lethal control licences only issued as a genuine last resort.

It also advocates paying farmers for having beavers on their land.

Farmer Tom Bowser, from Argaty near Doune in Perthshire, has reintroduced several beavers to his family farm under licence, saving them from culling.

He said: “The beavers have only brought us benefits. Their dams in what was once a flood-prone part of our farm have saved us real money in annual track repairs, because we just don’t see floods there anymore.”

The alliance estimates NatureScot has identified more than 100,000 hectares of woodland where beavers could establish territories, while Scotland’s Government bodies manage 10% of public land between them.

It argues bolder action on beaver reintroduction is especially needed from FLS, which manages around 640,000 hectares of Scotland, including many waterways known to be highly suitable for beavers.

A NatureScot spokesperson said: “NatureScot is very supportive of Scotland’s Beaver Strategy, and we share the public’s desire to see beavers expand into appropriate areas.

“We already host beavers on our land at Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve (NNR) and some beavers are known to be present around our Flanders Moss and Tentsmuir NNRs. We expect more beavers to arrive naturally at Tentsmuir and potentially at Loch Leven NNR.

“However, a significant proportion of the land we own or manage is either not suitable habitat for beavers (being coastal, peatland or mountain) or would only support a small, isolated population. In addition, many sites are not owned by NatureScot but are managed under Nature Reserve Agreements and would be subject to landowner permission.

“In our view efforts should be focused on larger, strategic catchment-based applications with multiple release sites rather than seeking to establish isolated populations that will require ongoing population and genetic management.

“Consequently, we have been concentrating on helping others to develop proposals for more favourable locations while continuing to consider where NNRs could contribute to such strategic applications.

“A huge amount of work has been happening on the ground since September 2022 and our 2023 report of beaver management, which is due to be published later this summer, will report a continued trend of fewer beavers being lethally controlled.

“This is due to NatureScot staff working hard with land managers, the Beaver Trust and Five Sisters Zoo to trap and translocate beavers from conflict areas wherever possible.

“The last survey of the Tayside beaver population in 2020/21 highlighted that the beaver population in Scotland is continuing to expand rapidly, with at least 251 active beaver territories and an estimated 954 individuals.

“There have since been three breeding seasons and populations have also been restored to more areas, including Loch Lomond and the Cairngorms, playing an important role in helping to improve biodiversity and respond to the climate emergency in Scotland.

“The Scottish beaver population is now likely to be in excess of 2000 beavers and we expect to carry out further survey work next winter.”

A spokesperson for FLS said: “We are involved in beaver translocations across Scotland and all our releases – other than the original Knapdale trial – are ‘within range’ as defined by NatureScot.

“However, where translocations are proposed ‘outwith’ range, considerable degrees of consultation and preparation are required and we have just concluded an consultation exercise on a proposal to translocate beavers to Glen Affric.

“For good reason, there have now been two rounds of consultation for Glen Affric. The second consultation, partly required because of a change to the scope/scale of the original proposal, was overseen by an external party and has highlighted that several practical, management and monitoring processes need to be defined and agreed on before we could progress to a licence.

“We have taken advice from NatureScot and, based on their feedback, believe these matters must be addressed before we can make a decision on making for a licence application.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We will continue to support the identification and expansion of beaver populations.

“We also recognise that appropriate management and mitigation is important to those affected.

“We will continue to work with local communities to ensure that beavers are reintroduced into areas that maximise biodiversity and wider environmental gains and avoid potential negative impacts.”