Beavers Being ‘Eradicated’ by Scottish Land Managers

Stephen Wiggins Article, Petition Leave a Comment

Banner image by courtesy of the Scottish Beaver Trial 

Update: 1 December 2016 – “Reintroduced beavers to stay after being granted native species status

Update: 15 May 2019 – “‘The inferno begins’: Scottish beavers ‘callously’ culled despite full legal protection, campaigners say

Eurasian beavers taken from Norway were released at Knapdale in Argyll in 2009. An illegally-released population has also been discovered in Tayside. Both groups will be allowed to expand naturally but will be managed to protect farmers and land owners.

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38 Degrees Petition – “Protect Scottish Beavers

We have plenty of worldwide concerns at IWB, from wildlife in Africa to dolphins in Japan……..

But closer to home in IWB’s United Kingdom (UK) base, there is the story of once native UK wildlife being reintroduced on trial to give us the pleasure of their company in our environment and help biodiversity. However,  whilst the reintroduction programme continues towards a close, simultaneously other pockets of the same reintroduced wildlife species in the region is being eradicated by resorting to a legal loop-hole/impasse.

Beavers are being reintroduced into Scotland (where beavers were once a native species, but hunted to extinction in the 16th Century) – one population of beavers has been reintroduced (2010) as part of a five year trial (ending 2015) in the Knapdale Forest in Argyll – the Scottish Beaver Trial (SBT) licensed by the Scottish Government. The SBT project is managed by a partnership between the Scottish Wildlife Trust, The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, with habitat hosted by the Forestry Commission Scotland.

But beavers are also evident in Scotland’s river Tay catchment. An estimate of around 150 beavers is given for the Tay, the Earn, the Isla and other nearby rivers and burns. These beaver populations do not form part of the official SBT. It is believed that the Tayside beaver population originated as escapees, or illegal releases from private collections. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and other agencies have been aware of the ‘free living’ beavers in the Tayside region since 2006.

However, a legal loop-hole/impasse is currently permitting landowners and farmers in the non-SBT areas where beavers are evident, to eradicate the beaver populations at will.

Landowners and farmers say the beavers are damaging trees (we all know that beavers like to cut trees, so that surely should not be too much of a surprise within the reintroduction plan of species that may well spread to other Scottish regions?). Furthermore, the landowners and farmers say that the beavers’ activities are causing flooding (we all know beavers build dams). I would suggest the very wet winter weather might also be a significant factor in any flooding – I have yet to see any science that says that a given flooding event of major concern/cost in the Tayside catchment area has been directly caused by said “free living” beavers.

Nick Halfhide, SNH’s director of operations, told BBC Scotland that mitigating actions are possible for natural beaver activities, but any culling of beavers taken should be humane (but of course, culling could/should also be a last resort in my opinion):

We share welfare concerns about beavers shot with inappropriate firearms and ammunition, and those with dependent young. We have asked land managers not to shoot beavers in Tayside but instead seek advice from us on mitigation, such as protecting trees and discouraging [beaver] dam building. However, if they [the landowners/land managers and farmers] choose to use lethal control, we have offered them advice on how to do so humanely.”

In March 2012, then Environment Minister, Stewart Stevenson said “We will take a decision on the future of beavers in Scotland – both those in Knapdale and on Tayside – at the end of the trial period in 2015.”

This 2012 decision was based on three options presented at the time, either to cull the animals, accept that beavers had been reintroduced to Scotland (and would therefore spread if beaver populations naturally increase), or to monitor the population(s) for a longer period.

But as we now head into 2016, the Scottish Government has yet to make any final decision and decide the ultimate fate of the reintroduced Scottish beaver, or indeed the “free living” Tayside beavers and/or elsewhere in Scotland. In the meantime, the landowners and farmers in Tayside have taken matters firmly into their own hands, using any methods they see fit as seemingly, no legal protection currently applies to any beavers in Scotland. ‘Official’ guidance on beavers and management in Scotland has yet to emerge.

The current ‘legal’ status of beavers in Scotland is summarised by the Tayside Beaver Study Group as follows:

Based on legal advice received by SNH, beavers are not currently considered protected in Scotland. It is illegal to possess a dead or live beaver without a licence issued by SNH.”

So, in the on-going impasse, “free living” beavers young, old, mothers nurturing their kits (new-born) etc. are openly being killed by dubious and inhumane methods (and presumably left were they fell to rot in the absence of any appropriate SNH licence).

Is this the mark of a humane and compassionate society that wants to reintroduce a once native species, but at the same time seemingly offers no ‘legal’ protection to that same species whatsoever? Obviously, no this does not radiate a humane or compassionate approach.

Is it likely that a Scottish Government will now decide that the beaver reintroduction trial has failed and all examples of wild beavers in Scotland must now be killed? That seems highly unlikely without massive public outcry and backlash. So why the on-going delay with offering some ‘legal’ protection to beavers, so whatever now happens from this day forth, any actions taken are at the very least humane and centrally controlled from now on?

So in the current impasse, all parties concerned (including the hapless “free living” beavers in the rifle cross-hairs) are left in limbo (or at worse dead, wounded and dying).  If the impasse endures, then by the time any ‘official’ guidance emerges, these “free living” beaver populations could be decimated beyond recovery, much to everyone’s embarrassment (but perhaps not the landowners and framers concerned I suspect).

Help try to close the current impasse/loop-hole by signing the 38 Degrees petition, calling on Aileen McLeod MSP to urgently seek to ensure protection of all Scottish beaver populations, before matters escalate any further and potentially, even more radical action is taken by Tayside’s landowners and farmers.

References:

  1. Pregnant Beavers Shot by Lanowners in Tayside,” BBC News, 31 January 2016
  2.  “Beavers and Young Suffering Slow and Painful Deaths in Landowner Shooting Cull,” The Herald Scotland, 31 January 2016
  3. Scotland’s Wild Beaver ‘Shoot to Kill’ Policy is Illegal and Wrong,” Ecologist, 5 December 2015
  4. Tayside Beaver Study Group

 

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