The 2022 Beaver Management Report arrived last week, and there are some mixed feelings.
The report, as published by NatureScot, found 63 beavers were shot under license in 2022.
While we broadly welcome Nature Scot’s report and their mitigation team deserve credit for making progress, we urgently need to see this figure come down much further and more beaver translocations to new river catchments and more farmers supported to live alongside beavers. Far too many beavers are still being killed. Even if this is a slight improvement on previous years, the figure is still far too high.
A total of 362 beavers have therefore been killed under license since the animals gained European Protected Status in 2019. 362 is a shocking number of animals killed when considered as a percentage of the total population, now estimated at just 1500 in Scotland. This is a tiny population compared to most other European countries. Hence, instead of being killed these animals should be building wetland habitats and contributing to nature restoration, flood mitigation and water purification in many parts of Scotland. Availability of which was outlined by NatureScot back in 2015.
We also need to look closely not only the number of beavers being killed relative to those trapped, but also how that killing is occurring. The government should urgently implement the recommendations of its own 2022 animal welfare report which urged an end to shooting beavers over water because of the high risk of wounding and a slow painful death or injury as in the case of Fig the beaver earlier this year.
The proposal that carcass retrieval might become a condition of future lethal control licences being granted is sensible, and in the long term it is likely to contribute to an increase in the welfare standards around lethal control.
In November 2021 Minister for Biodiversity and Circular Economy Lorna Slater announced the new beaver strategy:
“We strongly welcome the Scottish Government’s support for expanding the current range of the species into new areas of Scotland. There are more than 100,000 hectares of suitable woodland habitat around the country. Much of this habitat is in areas where there is a low risk of conflict with agriculture and other land uses.”
The Scottish Government announced they would actively support the expansion of the beaver population, promoting translocation, which involves safely trapping and moving beavers to a more suitable area. This would reduce or avoid negative impacts and help establish beaver presence in areas of Scotland outside their current range, beyond where natural expansion would be expected to reach in the short term.
Since the new policy was announced there have been no translocations outside of the current range of beavers in Scotland. Only 2 to sites that were already within range of natural expansion, Argaty in Doune and RSPB Loch Lomond. Furthermore, the process faced by landowners who wish to become beaver recipients is still far too bureaucratic and highly expensive.
This is not good enough. We need to speed this process up. Much more urgency is needed on identifying new sites and carrying out environmental assessment in new river catchments. Now that we have a national Beaver strategy, government agencies (particularly FLS and NatureScot) need to be more ambitious and lead by example in translocating beaver from conflict areas to sites under their own control (such as national nature reserves).
We recognise currently NatureScot are seeking views on environmental reports on the effects of beaver translocations into two new catchments: the River Spey & River Beauly. The consultation period will run from 9 June to 28 July 2023 and you can add your views here.
These are the Key Findings as outlined by NatureScot in the report:
· Scotland’s Beaver Strategy which was published in September 2022 now guides the direction of beaver restoration and management in Scotland. The findings of this report support that the Beaver Management Framework is supporting the delivery of Scotland’s Beaver Strategy – helping to maximise the ecosystem and wider benefits of an expanding beaver population whilst minimising the negative impacts.· The beaver population is currently in a phase of rapid expansion. This trend is expected to continue in Tayside, and as beavers colonise new catchments. The last population estimate of 251 territories two years ago could now represent over 1500 animals.· A body of work has taken place to support and explore the effects of beaver translocations to new catchments. The third wild beaver release in Scotland (and the first since the policy change to support wider beaver translocations) took place at the RSPB Scotland reserve on Loch Lomond in January 2023.· Work is progressing to support the consideration of further translocations to new catchments with applications for locations in the Beauly and Spey catchments anticipated this summer.· A total of 108 beavers were removed from conflict sites in 2022 (45 by trapping and 63 through lethal control). Of those removed, the proportion that were trapped and translocated was 42% in 2022 a significant increase from 28% in 2021. A total of 15 were released to the wild in Scotland. Naturescot will continue to work with licence holders to arrange trapping where this is needed throughout the licensable period, to see a further shift in the proportion removed being trapped and translocated.· Over the whole of Tay and Forth catchments 10% of territories were affected by removals and 7% of the population taken (assuming there has been a 30% annual increase). The numbers of beavers in Tayside appears not to be negatively affected by the levels of removals in recent years, but careful consideration will continue to be given to the impact of future removals.· Several changes to beaver licensing are proposed including: the introduction of an application form for all beaver licences, a change to the licence returns period and the submission of carcasses to NatureScot for post mortem becoming a condition of lethal control licences
Want to experience your very own wild Scottish beaver encounter? Check out our page on beaver promoted ecotourism and figure out if you want to join an experienced guide, or try your own luck at beaver spotting by staying in one of many fantastic getaways around Scotland.