The result of the Trees for Life legal challenge to the Scottish Government over its “lethal control” beaver policy is out and superficially this looks like a great result for beaver conservation.
The court ruled that NatureScot must set out openly and fully the reasons why it believes any future licences to kill beavers should be granted.
However, NatureScot (NS) appears unrepentant. In two carefully worded press releases, they claim the ruling as a “vindication of our licensing approach” and the point on which they were found to have acted unlawfully is just “ “technical point of law”. Note that this is the licensing approach which, over the last two years has led to the unlawful killing of over 200 free-living and supposedly ‘protected’ beavers . This amounts to approximately 1/5th of the estimated Scottish population of 1,000 animals.
Irrespective of the legal arguments, it is deeply worrying that NatureScot, in its clarification statement, indicated that they will simply “amend existing licenses when needed, to show that culling is a necessary last resort, due to issues such as agricultural damage.” No contrition for having been found to be issuing unlawful license. No desire to translocate beavers from conflict areas to those parts of Scotland where their multiple environmental benefits can be realised.
Across Europe, wildlife managers follow a set hierarchy of mitigation:
- Accommodating beavers (valuing their huge benefits in terms of ecosystem services and public goods such as rural employment, ecotourism and education; improved water quality and flood prevention; benefits for fish, other biodiversity and Carbon storage in beaver wetlands and dams);
- Managing and mitigating beaver impacts where these conflict with other human land use;
- Translocation (live trapping and moving beavers from areas where their activities conflict with other human land use to places where their benefits can be realized) – over 100,000 ha of suitable habitat in Scotland has been identified by NS themselves.
- Killing only as an absolute LAST RESORT (once all other options have been explored and assessed as not workable in the specific location – e.g. on the rare occasions where mitigation or live trapping are not feasible
NS should be following these best practice examples and the framework and guidance of the Habitats Directive for effective reintroductions and assuring the conservation status of a European Protected Species.
There are serious questions to answer about the use of public funds used by a NatureScot to fight legal challenges, instead of improving their practices and fulfilling their statutory conservation duties. We find it inexplicable that it is necessary for the charity Trees for Life – raising funds from the public through crowdfunding – to courageously undertake a legal challenge in order to force the Government’s own nature conservation agency to carry out its responsibility to take proper care of legally protected wildlife. This is not a good image for Scotland only days before the UNFCCC CoP in Glasgow and considering our First Minister’s declaration of a joint biodiversity and climate emergency.
SWBG continues to call for a forward-looking National Beaver Strategy, planning for the proper reintroduction of this important European Protected Species across Scotland with all its multiple ecosystem service, socio-economic and climate change mitigation benefits – instead of the destructive policy which has been implemented so far.
SWBG calls for the immediate lifting of the embargo on translocation of beavers “out of current range” in Scotland and for a simplification of the process for landowners who wish to welcome beavers in suitable locations, together with associated funding. Nature Scot should be funding the necessary consultations, training and logistics for moving beavers to suitable locations (instead of effectively encouraging people to shoot them).
The Scottish Wild Beaver Group believe in people making their own informed decisions on important matters like this, check out these articles below for further takes on the judicial review –
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.