Call for progress on protected status for Scotland’s beavers

A number of leading Scottish wildlife charities and individuals with an interest in conservation have signed an open letter to the First Minister, published in The Guardian today calling for a firm date to be set on granting European Protected Species status to beavers in Scotland. This letter comes one year after the announcement that legislation to secure European Protected Species status for beavers would be laid down in the Scottish Parliament in the first half of 2018.

Adult beaver at Knapdale © Steve Gardner

Susan Davies, Director of Conservation, Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “In November 2016, through the leadership of the Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish Government took the landmark step of supporting the reintroduction of beavers, marking the first successful reintroduction of a formerly extinct mammal in the UK. That decision stemmed from broad agreement between conservationists, farmers and land managers that beavers would be tolerated, their return would be effectively managed, and that the species would be given protected species status under the European Habitats Directive.

“Despite this early leadership, it is now a year since the Cabinet Secretary signalled that legislation to secure European Protected Species status for beavers would be laid down in Parliament in early 2018, and there has been no firm update on the timetable since then. Without protection beavers are subject to unregulated culling, which raises questions about their welfare and how they are being prevented from naturally spreading throughout Scotland.

“It’s hard to understand the reason for the delay. All of the preparatory work is in place to take the next step towards securing protected status. Importantly, a recent Scottish Government consultation showed the vast majority of respondents (83%) agreed with the policy of reintroducing beavers, and were content that appropriate tools have been identified to mitigate the impact on economic interests. These localised impacts cannot be allowed to outweigh the wider national benefits that beavers will bring, including stabilising river flows, reducing flood risk and creating valuable woodland and wetland habitats in which a wide range of other species can flourish.”

Open Letter: Scotland’s beavers need protection

The clock has run out on the statement, made by the Scottish Government on 20 December 2017, that legislation to make beavers a protected species in Scotland would be laid before Parliament in the first half of 2018. We are calling on the First Minister to renew her government’s leadership and commit to bringing home a former resident.

Pioneering work including the Scottish Beaver Trial and the experience of reintroductions in more than 20 European countries shows beavers have the potential to bring enormous positive change. They breathe new life into our landscape by creating dynamic woodland and wetland habitats, and they help to control flooding by slowing down upland streams.

It is now more than two years since the Scottish Government announced in November 2016 that it was minded to allow beavers to naturally recolonise Scotland. This led from a consensus between farmers, land managers and conservationists that wild beavers would be tolerated, their return would be effectively managed, and they would protected under the European Habitats Directive.

Without this protection, beavers are subject to unregulated culling, which can take place anytime, anywhere. This causes concern for the individual welfare of animals, and the ability of the species to naturally spread through Scotland’s lochs and rivers. Lethal control must be a last resort, rather than the go-to solution.

The government can restore faith in our nation’s reputation for environmental leadership by setting a firm date to introduce protection, alongside an appropriate management framework. Then we can finally welcome beavers home.

Signed by

Susan Davies, Director of Conservation, Scottish Wildlife Trust; Charlotte Macdonald, Director of Conservation and Living Collections, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland; Allan Bantick OBE, Founding Chair, Scottish Beaver Trial; Stuart Brooks, Head of Conservation and Policy, National Trust for Scotland; Peter Cairns, Director, Scotland: The Big Picture; Jim Crumley; Charles Dundas, Chair, Scottish Environment LINK; Carol Evans, Director, Woodland Trust Scotland; Sam Gardner, Acting Director, WWF Scotland; Sir John Lister-Kaye OBE FRSGS, Aigas Field Centre; Cameron McNeish; Steve Micklewright, Chief Executive, Trees for Life; James Nairne, Trustee, Scottish Wild Beaver Group; Eddie Palmer, Chairman, Scottish Badgers; Polly Pullar; Patrick Stirling-Aird, Secretary, Scottish Raptor Study Group; Paul Walton, Head of Habitats and Species, RSPB Scotland

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