Beaver introduction is a golden opportunity for Scotland

editorial image

Allowing beavers to be reintroduced to Scotland would offer a wide-range of environmental, social and economic benefits.

That’s according to conservation charity Trees for Life.

With the Scottish Government due to decide on whether Eurasian beavers will be allowed to live freely in Scotland after an absence of some 500 years, Trees for Life is urging ministers to fully recognise the beaver as a resident, native species.

It is nine months since Scottish Natural Heritage reported to the Scottish Government on the Scottish Beaver Trial – a five-year programme reintroducing beavers in Argyll’s Knapdale Forest. Trees for Life is backing calls by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and Scottish Wildlife Trust for a positive decision by the government as soon as possible.

However, the Scottish Government has announced that a final decision on the reintroduction of beavers to Scotland will not be taken until later this year.

The situation of unregulated culling and an absence of coordinated management support will now continue until after the election, to the detriment of the environment, landowners and of course the beavers themselves.

Alan Watson Featherstone, Trees for Life’s founder, said: “Allowing this native species to return would offer Scotland huge benefits. Beavers are superb ecosystem engineers and could transform and greatly improve the health of our rivers and forest ecosystems, help restore our depleted wetlands and reduce flooding – while substantially boosting wildlife tourism,”

“We also have an ethical responsibility to allow the beaver to return at last, having caused its extinction in Scotland. The government has the opportunity now to take a far-sighted positive decision that will benefit our communities and landscapes, and will lead the way in the UK, at a time when England and Wales are also considering the possible reintroduction of beavers.”

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, added: “We are extremely disappointed by this further delay in ratifying the presence of Eurasian beavers in Scotland.

“Whilst we fully understand that safeguards need to be in place to deal with the concerns of some land managers, there is widespread experience on how beavers and humans can successfully co-exist, including on or adjacent to farmland. The Scottish Beaver Trial concluded its work almost a year ago and carried out an exemplary evaluation of the likely benefits and costs of beavers returning to Scotland, and we see no reason why the Government has delayed this important decision further.

Beavers play a crucial ecological role and provide a range of important benefits for other species. They coppice and fell trees – letting light into the forest, enabling other species to grow and stimulating new growth of the trees themselves. By damming watercourses they create wetland areas – providing habitats for amphibians, invertebrates and fish, which in turn attract birds and otters.

Scotland also has more than 250 wild beavers estimated to be in the River Tay catchment, following breeding by beavers that escaped captivity.

Trees for Life is urging the government to allow the natural expansion of beavers from both Argyll and Tayside, and to authorise further licensed reintroductions in appropriate areas, accompanied by carefully considered management and monitoring, including to secure the genetic health and long-term viability of these colonies.