Today, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) released its Beaver Licensing Summary for 2019. The report confirms that between 1 May and 31 December last year, 87 protected beavers were killed under government licence. (This figure represents roughly one fifth of Scotland’s entire beaver population of around 430 animals)
The licensed killing of 87 beavers, a species widely recognised to bring multiple environmental benefits, undermines the Scottish Government’s commitment to tackle biodiversity loss and protect nature.
Since the introduction of the current beaver management framework in 2019, the Scottish Wild Beaver Group (SWBG) and other wildlife conservation organisations have warned SNH that the licensing policy is deeply flawed. The favourable conservation status and genetic diversity of Scotland’s beavers has now been potentially put at risk by the ease with which lethal control licenses have been granted. The threat to the population is compounded by the current government policy which blocks translocation of beavers from low-lying agricultural land in Tayside to suitable habitat outside their existing range. In light of this, claims that the existing policy ‘only employs lethal control as a last resort’ now appear disingenuous.
If Scotland is to fully realise the biodiversity benefits that beavers can provide, there needs to be an urgent adoption of a strategy which seeks to encourage a basic level of acceptance of beaver presence. Lethal control licences should not be issued on presumptions based on land categorization but must genuinely be issued only as a last resort, and specifically if other forms of mitigation, including translocation, can be categorically ruled out. This is the approach that has been successfully employed in many of the other 24 European countries where beavers have been re-introduced.
The SNH report specifically acknowledges that parts of Tayside have become ‘sinks’ – areas where outward population expansion has been halted as a result of animals being drawn into vacant territories after the previous residents have been shot out.
In light of the disturbing kill figures, all existing licenses now need to be reviewed and, where appropriate, revised. Thereafter all licences should be reassessed annually to ensure that the reasons for their issue remain valid.
SWBG welcomes SNH’s plan to undertake a survey in the course of 2020, as well as the suggestion that beaver presence could be included as a component in agri-environment schemes, rewarding farmers and land managers for accommodating beavers on their land. Such inclusion will help recognise the key contribution that beavers wetlands can make in tackling biodiversity loss and helping to building climate resilience for our landscapes and communities.
The Scottish Wild Beaver Group remains committed to work with all stakeholders to secure a future for beavers, biodiversity and wetland habitats throughout Scotland.