Scottish Government confirms beavers will be allowed to recolonise – and they will be made a protected species
Beavers are not only back in Scotland – but they’re here to stay.
The mammals were hunted to extinction centuries ago, but recent trials have been conducted looking at their reintroduction.
In tandem, a wild population has become established following illegal releases.
Landowners and farmers had called for the small populations of the rodents to be eliminated – saying they caused floods and habitat alteration.
However, a study has concluded that the species can stay – with appropriate management.
They will now be added to Scotland’s list of endangered species, receiving the highest level of protection, alongside golden eagles and wild cats.
And they will need it – as the small existing populations have already been subjected to human persecution.
Beavers can be found in Knapdale, Argyll, where the trial reintroduction took place, and on Tayside, where the illegal releases happened.
This will be the first time a mammal has been officially reintroduced to the UK – though unofficial, and growing, populations of wild boar exist thanks to escapes.
Scottish ministers have agreed that beaver populations in Argyll and Tayside can remain and they will be allowed to expand their range naturally.
They said research has shown beavers, which were native to Scotland before being hunted to extinction in the 16th century, provide important biodiversity benefits.
However, they recognised the animals can cause significant difficulties for farmers and land managers.
Environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham commended the work of Scottish Wildlife Trust, the National Farmers Union Scotland, the Royal Scottish Zoological Society, and Scottish Land and Estates who have worked together to come up with solutions to concerns.
She said: “I have been determined to find a pragmatic approach, which balances the biodiversity benefits of reintroducing beavers with the obvious need to limit difficulties for our farmers.
"Beavers promote biodiversity by creating new ponds and wetlands, which in turn provide valuable habitats for a wide range of other species.
"Today’s announcement represents a major milestone in our work to protect and enhance Scotland’s world renowned biodiversity."
However, Cunningham was keen to stress that further illegal release experiments will not be tolerated.
“I want to be absolutely clear that while the species will be permitted to extend its range naturally, further unauthorised releases of beavers will be a criminal act," she said.
“Swift action will be taken in such circumstances to prevent a repeat of the experience on Tayside.”
The two lead charities in the Scottish Beaver Trial at Knapdale – the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the Scottish Wildlife Trust – have welcomed the decision, and said that further official reintroductions will be necessary for the species to recover its lost range.
They said the benefits of beavers include creating new wetlands that support a wide range of other species such as otters, water voles, fish and dragonflies; creating more diverse woodlands through naturally coppicing trees; and helping to regulate flooding and improve water quality.
An increase in beavers is also certain to boost wildlife tourism in Scotland, helping to grow a sector that is already worth £127 million per year to our economy.
Barbara Smith, chief executive of RZSS, said: “Today is a truly historic day for Scottish conservation. Returning a keystone species to the wild for the first time in 400 years is a tremendous achievement for RZSS and our partners the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and we welcome the government’s commitment to the species both in Knapdale and further afield."
Jonathan Hughes, chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “This is a major milestone for Scotland’s wildlife and the wider conservation movement. Beavers are one of the world’s best natural engineers.
“The return of beavers also has great potential for education and wildlife tourism. We have already seen at Knapdale how their presence is a tremendous draw for visitors from all over the world, which in turn brings social and economic benefits to the rural economy.”