28 May, 2020
Lead nature agency publishes beaver licensing statistics
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) today published a report on the challenging balance to be made between protecting beavers in Scotland and helping to prevent serious damage to some farmers’ land.
Beavers are ecosystem engineers. They provide huge benefits to people and nature, improving water quality and flow, and creating new habitats that foster many other species. However, their actions can sometimes cause serious impacts for land managers such as flooding of fields and crops. In some circumstance it may be necessary to manage beavers and their dams under special licences issued by SNH.
Beavers became a European Protected Species on 1 May 2019. SNH reports that between 1st May and 31st December 2019, it issued 45 species licences which permitted either lethal control or dam removal. These were granted when there was no other effective solution to prevent serious agricultural damage. Five of the licences permitted dam removal or manipulation only. All licences were issued for the purpose of preventing serious damage to agriculture and all but one of these (97.5%) were issued on land classified by Scottish Government as Prime Agricultural Land. Evidence of serious damage included waterlogged fields and crops, as well as erosion on riverbanks and embankments.
One additional licence was granted to allow an experienced ecologist to live-trap beavers from sites where lethal control may otherwise have been employed. SNH also refused 33% of licence requests.
Under these licences, 15 beavers were trapped and moved to either Knapdale or a trial reintroduction project and fenced sites in England, 83 beaver dams were removed, and 87 beavers were shot by trained and accredited controllers. All lethal control licence holders were contacted about the possibility of trapping on their land, but live-trapping is not always possible on every site for a number of reasons, including the topography and general nature of the site and how beavers use it; and the behaviour of individual animals. Based on survey information, lethal control and trapping has taken place within around 13% of territories. The proportion of the overall range of beavers in Tayside covered by licences is likely less than 10%, with control being carried out on around 5%.
The report recommends continued work with licence-holders exploring viable alternatives to lethal control, improving understanding of the impact of control measures on the Tayside population through survey and population modelling, and supporting work that better recognises the benefits of beavers for nature.
Robbie Kernahan, SNH Director of Sustainable Growth said:
“It’s always been clear to both us and our partners that lethal control of beavers will sometimes be necessary under licence as a last resort when other mitigation is unlikely to be effective. Some of the well documented and most serious issues have occurred on the most productive areas of agricultural land in Scotland. Due to their generally being well-drained, low-lying and flat, these areas are often vulnerable to beaver burrowing and dam building.
“As we work with farmers to trial new and innovative measures for reducing the impacts of beavers on this type of ground, we hope to see less need for control measures in the coming years. We also expect to see the beaver population expanding away from high conflict areas and into suitable habitat where beavers can thrive and bring the positive benefits we want to see.”
The beavers in Tayside and surrounding areas are the result of unauthorised releases or escapes, with many animals settling on Prime Agricultural Land where they have had serious impacts. Classified Prime Agricultural Land makes up around 13% of Scotland’s land cover and, as the most productive and important farmland, it is of national importance.
SNH trapped and re-located 15 beavers in 2019, helping projects throughout the UK from Knapdale to Northumbria and Dorset. SNH will consider opportunities for conservation translocations of beavers from high to low conflict areas within existing catchments to improve resilience of existing populations. With Scottish Government we also will consider other alternative measures as part of a wider beaver mitigation strategy.
SNH also operates the Beaver Mitigation Scheme and in the first year, provided advice and support for over 40 cases and entered into 10 management agreements to implement mitigation. This work included installing flow devices, tree protection work, exclusion fencing and bank protection to protect agricultural land, infrastructure and property.
SNH has begun trialling water-gates this year, which aim to exclude beavers from areas of land where conflicts are arising or likely, as well as trialling other techniques, such as automated early-warning systems to alert people to beaver impacts, allowing rapid intervention before problems occur. Although water gates are only likely to be successful in certain situations, a number of potential water gate sites have been identified which, if successful, have the potential to fully resolve problems on 12 current licences where lethal control is permitted and partially resolve issues on a further 6 licences.
For the full statistics on 2019 mitigation, see https://bit.ly/2zzjVSh.
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Notes to editors
Animals have been trapped and re-located to projects in England that have been approved by Natural England. Seven animals were moved to Argyll for the Scottish Beavers Knapdale reinforcement project, one animal to a wild-living population at a project on the River Otter in Devon, two to a fenced site in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire and five to a fenced site at Holnicote in Somerset.
The beaver population in Tayside and adjacent catchments was estimated at 114 territories in 2017/18 or very approximately 433 animals (median of between 319 - 547). The level of beaver control prior to legal protection in May 2019 is not known, but it is thought to have been widespread; during which time the population increased and expanded. Licensing has significantly restricted, where and when control can take place. Records and casework over the past year show that the beaver population is expanding both within existing and into new areas. SNH plan to do a full population survey later this year.
Beavers have been in Tayside since at least 2006, and are thought to originate either from escapes or unauthorised releases from private collections. In March 2012, Scotland’s then Minister for Environment, Stewart Stevenson, tolerated the Tayside beavers to remain in the wild for the duration of the official trial reintroduction of beavers in Knapdale, Argyll. In May 2019, beavers became a protected species in Scotland. For more, see https://www.gov.scot/news/beavers-given-protected-status/ and SNH ‘Beavers in Scotland’ report to SG: https://www.nature.scot/beavers-scotland-report-scottish-government
As European Protected Species, certain actions in relation to wild beavers are an offence unless carried out under licence. This legislation acknowledges the need to manage protected wildlife. SNH, as licensing authority, have to ensure that management of beavers under licence is carried out for the right reasons, only when necessary and without compromising their conservation status.
The Scottish Beaver Forum includes representatives from NFU Scotland, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), Scottish Forestry (SF) Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), the Scottish Wild Beaver Group, the Tay District Salmon Fishery Board, Fisheries Management Scotland, Local Authorities, Scottish Government and SNH. The SBF was set up to gather information about wild beavers in Scotland and to help resolve any conflicts between beavers and other land uses.
NatureScot is Scotland's nature agency. We work to enhance our natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it. Our priority is a nature-rich future for Scotland and an effective response to the climate emergency. For more information, visit our website at www.nature.scot or follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nature_scot
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