Beavers are brilliant for wildlife and for people – but in Scotland these habitat-creating, biodiversity-boosting, flood-preventing animals are at risk as a species, because the Scottish Government allows their legal killing.
- One-in-five Scottish beavers were legally killed last year, making a mockery of their protected species status. They are at a crossroads, with their long-term future in Scotland at risk.
- With nature faring worse in the UK than in most other countries – and many people wanting Britain to ‘build back better’ from the coronavirus pandemic – beavers are allies in our efforts to tackle the nature and climate emergencies.
- They are expert ecosystem engineers and superb biodiversity boosters. They help rewilding by felling trees to build small dams, which lets in light to waterside woodlands, and they create ponds and wetland areas – which supports a mind-boggling variety of species including bats, birds, amphibians, reptiles, otters and fish, including young salmon which grow faster and healthier in beaver areas.
- What’s good for wildlife is good for us. Beaver dams help reduce flooding by regulating water flow, while retaining water which helps during droughts, and improving water quality by trapping sediment. Their activities also help landscapes soak up carbon dioxide, which helps tackle climate breakdown. And beavers can become a tourist attraction that can benefit local communities and economies.
- While these advantages hugely outweigh any disadvantages, they can cause problems for farmers through unwanted local impacts such as damaging crops – as in Tayside, where a few animals escaped from private collections around 2001.
- For over 13 years Tayside farmers could control beavers as they wished. Since beavers became a protected species in May 2019, those wanting to kill beavers or remove their dams or lodges must now obtain a licence from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Last year, this saw a killing spree in which 87 beavers (around 20% of the total Scottish population) were shot under licence in the River Tay catchment in the eight months since they were given legal protection.
The solution? Relocation.
A simple and positive solution is to relocate beavers from where they’re not wanted to where they are – and where these aquatic engineers can work their magic to improve Scotland’s landscapes and nature.
- Whereas each beaver shot is a wasted life that could have helped tackle the climate emergency and nature crisis by creating a thriving nature-rich wetland somewhere else in Scotland.
- SNH has already identified over 100,000 hectares of ‘core beaver woodland’ in Scotland where beavers can thrive, and there are forward-thinking landowners who would love to beavers on their land.
- In areas of the Highlands, SNH has identified many beaver-friendly locations, often surrounded by land with low sensitivity to beaver impacts. Ecologically, we know beavers can thrive in the Highlands, just as they did until hunting made them extinct around 400 years ago. At a practical level, Trees for Life has been preparing for the return of beavers for over 25 years, creating habitat by planting aspens and willows – two of beavers’ favourite trees – along loch shores and riverbanks as it restores the Caledonian Forest.
- But the Scottish Government says beavers are only allowed to spread naturally, and ministers are currently blocking beaver relocations to new areas within Scotland – though the government is happy to see them moved to England. As a result, it will take beavers decades to reach suitable areas that could benefit from their presence right now, while the current ‘shoot first’ policy makes a mockery of the animal’s protected status.
- We also advocate paying farmers for having beavers on their land. Sometimes beavers may still need to be removed, but paying for beavers’ benefits could help to change the way farmers view them.
How can you help? Sign and share our petition.
Our petition is calling on the Scottish Government to allow unwanted beavers to be relocated to other parts of Scotland where they could benefit the landscape and be welcomed by people, rather than being killed – please sign the petition (before 27 August).
- The Scottish Rewilding Alliance has launched a petition on the Scottish Parliament website, calling on the Scottish Government to allow the relocation of beavers to suitable areas outside of their current range – which will reduce the need for the animals to be shot when they have local impacts on farmland. The petition is available at parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/beaver. It is open for signatures until 27 August.
- Relocating beavers rather than shooting them would be a more humane, forward-looking and strategic approach to beaver conservation. It will also help allay conservationists’ fears that a genetic bottleneck is developing in the Tayside beaver population.
- Most people want beavers back – moving not shooting would help ensure beavers fully establish themselves in Scotland and that they remain a feature of the countryside for generations to come.
- Given their fragile conservation status here, and we’re calling on the Scottish Government to let those beavers in more controversial locations be relocated to areas where landowners would welcome their return for the first time since the sixteenth century.
- This positive, wildlife-friendly action would support the Scottish Government’’s stated commitment to tackle the connected crises of climate breakdown and nature loss.
- We’re calling on the Scottish Government to show the political will to welcome the species back properly.
- While we may be a world leader in climate change, we need to play ecological catch-up with over 20 other European countries, which currently enjoy the rewilding rewards of having reintroduced beavers while successfully managing localised impacts – and proving that farmers and beavers can co-exist.
- Relocations to suitable new sites should always be routinely considered when landowners apply for lethal control licences, with such licences issued only as a genuine last resort and when other mitigation methods – specifically including relocation – have been categorically ruled out.
- The call is being made by the Scottish Rewilding Alliance – a coalition of 24 environmental charities, countryside access organisations, businesses and community groups. See rewild.scot