Trees for Life believes that its court challenge to the Scottish Government’s beaver killing policy can result in a win-win for farmers and nature.
At Scotland’s Court of Session in Edinburgh on 3 and 4 June, Trees for Life presented detailed arguments that the Government’s nature agency NatureScot is breaking the law by failing to make the killing of the protected species a genuine last resort when management is required.
Beavers create wetlands that can significantly benefit other wildlife, reduce flooding and improve water quality, but the animals sometimes need managing if they cause damage to farmland.
A ruling in Trees for Life’s favour will allow suitable new sites to be identified across Scotland, in consultation with local people, to which beavers can be moved rather than being shot.
“We are very happy with how the hearing went and are looking forward to a positive outcome that will move the thinking on around how nature and farmers can both benefit from having beavers back in our landscapes,” said Alan McDonnell, Trees for Life’s Conservation Manager.
“The case has shone a spotlight on how moving not shooting beavers can underpin a more nature-friendly approach to beaver management where needed. This would allow beavers to do what they do best – helping to tackle the collapse in biodiversity, creating wildlife tourism opportunities and boosting natural flood management.
“It’s important that solutions work for farmers. We want farmers to have options that help them avoid being forced to shoot much-loved animals, and for farmers co-existing with beavers to receive financial support.”
Currently the Scottish Government refuses to allow such relocations and NatureScot appears to be unable to support this approach, even though it has itself identified over 100,000 hectares of suitable habitat. This limits the options for Tayside farmers whose land or crops are damaged by beavers.
Trees for Life also expressed disappointment that NatureScot chose to defend its beaver killing policy at the court hearing by attempting to use legal technicalities to create loopholes for the agency to act against established conservation practice.
Lawyer Adam Eagle, Chief Executive Officer of legal specialist rewilding charity The Lifescape Project, which spearheaded the litigation with Trees for Life, said: “Having listened to all of the arguments in court, it remains baffling why NatureScot is choosing to issue licences to kill a protected species rather backing a proven, effective, beneficial and non-lethal alternative.
“NatureScot’s bizarre approach to beaver management is in stark contrast to its responsible handling of other protected species. Its case appears to be founded on a very specific interpretation of legal technicalities that runs contrary to sound conservation practice. That’s bad news for biodiversity, and we think it lets farmers down too.”
At the court hearing, Trees for Life argued that NatureScot’s current beaver licensing practices breach the Scottish Habitats Regulations on several fronts, including by failing to take a precautionary approach – meaning the licenses issued for lethal control are illegal.
The charity argued Nature Scot has issued beaver killing licences with insufficient checks on the need for lethal control of a protected species, and has wrongly favoured shooting over relocation.
Arguments by NatureScot that beaver population levels in Tayside may be increasing miss the point says Trees for Life, because every beaver shot wastes the life of a much-needed ally in tackling the nature and climate crises.
Since the Government legally protected beavers in 2019, NatureScot has issued dozens of killing licences when beavers are said to be damaging farmland – even though laws on protected species require management to have the least possible impact on their conservation status.
In 2019, NatureScot issued licences for 87 beavers – one fifth of the Scottish population – to be shot in Tayside. Trees for Life is calling on the agency to reveal how many beavers were killed under licence in 2020.
The charity says beavers do not need to be a polarising issue for farmers and conservationists, and believes most farmers would choose non-lethal beaver management options if available.
The court’s decision on the case will be published in the coming months.
Trees for Life’s public crowdfunder to cover the judicial review’s costs raised over £60,000, exceeding its target thanks to over 1,500 supporters.
For a summary of Trees for Life’s arguments to the Court of Session, see treesforlife.org.uk/beaver-management-key-arguments.