Protected species status for beavers

European beaver, courtesy Scottish Natural Heritage
Norette Ferns

The Scottish Government has announced that beavers will be protected under Scottish law.

The Eurasian or European beaver will be added to the list of European Protected Species of Animals, protected under Scottish law.

This means that from 1 May 2019 shooting will only be allowed under licence, which will be managed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). All licenses will be issued in accordance with the law on European Protected Species.

Between 2009 and 2014, sixteen Eurasian beavers were successfully introduced to Knapdale Forest, Argyll and Bute, with the benefits and impacts being independently monitored by SNH. An SNH report published on 12 October 2018 estimated that around 430 beavers live in over 100 active beaver territories on Tayside.

Announcing the news, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said:

"The Scottish Government believes in the highest standards of animal welfare – for both wild and domestic animals - and we felt it was high time that beavers enjoyed the same legal protection as other species like bats, dolphins, wildcats and otters. 

 "There are few species that have such a significant and, largely positive, influence on the health and function of our ecosystems. The importance of beavers to Scotland’s biodiversity is huge.

 "However, we recognise that beavers can have a significant impact on farming, particularly in areas like Strathmore, which is why we have been working closely with farmers and partner agencies to establish management plans, as well as a licensing system for culling when there is no other alternative."

Nick Halfhide, SNH Director, said:

"Beavers benefit nature, creating habitats such as ponds and wetlands where other species thrive, as well as alleviating flooding and improving water quality.

"But sometimes beavers can flood farmland and roads, and we will need to help land owners manage them. To prepare for beavers’ protected species status, we have been working with a range of partners, including the Scottish Government, farming and conservation bodies, so we’re ready to provide free, expert advice and practical support to anyone whose land is affected by beavers."

NFU Scotland's Environment and Land Use Committee Chairman, Angus MacFadyen, who farms in Argyll, said:

"In 2016, NFU Scotland accepted that beavers should be given protected status. Along with several other interested organisations we acknowledged the value that beavers add to Scotland’s biodiversity.

"But we also agreed with these other organisations, and with Scottish Government and SNH, that in some locations there is a clear need to manage this species to minimise undesirable impacts on agriculture.

"We welcome the statement in the recent open letter published by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Roseanna Cunningham that the reintroduction 'will not be at the expense of the productivity of our rural economy' and going on to identify a flexible and responsive licensing system as the solution.

"Beavers can have negative impacts especially when they occur in highly productive agricultural areas. As such, the beaver population is already causing many farmers great concern because of the way that beavers can undermine river banks and protective flood banks and potentially impede farmland drainage as a result of damming.

"The agreed management framework that will be effective from tomorrow (1 May), includes both licencing for management and mitigation trials. We hope it proves to be workable and allows farmers to deal with problems when they arise."

Visit the SNH website for more information.