Beaver numbers across Tayside have increased in the past six years, according to a new Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) survey. Whilst welcoming the expansion of the species, the Scottish Wildlife Trust is warning that without legal protection these beavers are at risk of unregulated, and possibly inhumane killing.
The SNH report estimates that around 430 beavers live in over 100 active beaver territories in Tayside. A 2012 survey estimated beaver numbers across the region at about 150 beavers in 40 territories.
Nick Halfhide, SNH’s Director of Sustainable Growth, said, “By building dams, beavers improve local water quality and help nurture other wildlife, and it’s wonderful that people now have a chance to see these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat.
“But in some parts of Scotland, beavers can cause problems, particularly in areas with prime agricultural land. So we are setting up a mitigation scheme – with input from a range of interest groups such as NFU Scotland through the Scottish Beaver Forum – to develop and trial techniques to help farmers deal with any problems they encounter.”
SNH provide farmers with free, expert advice, as well as practical, on-the-ground solutions. These include techniques used across Europe, such as deterrent fencing, tree guards, piped dams, culvert and flood bank protection, as well as trialling new methods.
Beavers range from as far north as Dunalastair Water, extend out to the River Dochart and River Lyon in the west, over to Forfar Loch in the east, and down to Loch Earn in the south. Beavers are also spreading beyond Tayside. There are a small number of beaver territories within the Forth catchment from Loch Achray in the Trossachs, parts of River Teith and Devon, to the main stem of Forth River near Stirling.
Responding to the report Susan Davies, Director of Conservation, Scottish Wildlife Trust said, “This comprehensive survey shows a welcome expansion in their range since 2012. Beavers are now widespread in Tayside and they are starting to recolonise other areas including the River Forth. It is only a matter of time before they enter other river catchments. Beavers provide a range of natural benefits, from reducing flooding to creating vibrant new habitats for other wildlife. We believe they have a major role to play in the recovery of Scotland’s degraded ecosystems.
“There is strong evidence that any negative impacts of beavers are localised and can be mitigated by adopting simple techniques that are widely used elsewhere in Europe. We welcome the announcement that farmers and other land managers will be able to access free support to help minimise any conflicts.
“However, it is alarming that there are a number of areas where beavers are absent due to unregulated culls. Killing beavers should only be permitted under licence in situations where their impact are truly severe, and where alternative non-lethal approaches have failed. The current lack of regulation means that there are no standards to ensure that beavers are controlled humanely.
“We believe it is time for the Scottish Government to complete the steps required to give beavers protected status. This was promised at the end of 2016 but progress has been too slow. Granting legal protection would ensure that beavers are allowed to thrive across Scotland, and that the management of their impacts will be carried out according to the joint principles agreed between the Trust, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, National Farmers Union Scotland and Scottish Land and Estates in late 2016.”
The full survey report can be found on the SNH website.