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Over 200 beavers officially killed in Scotland since species became protected


More than 200 beavers have been officially killed in Scotland since the species became a protected species in May 2019.

The Scottish Government's nature agency NatureScot today released figures revealing that 115 beavers were culled in 2020 – adding to the 87 animals shot between May and December 2019.

NatureScot announced the figures in a statement, in which the agency instead focused on its estimate that 1,000 beavers now live in the wild in Scotland.

Rewilding charity Trees for Life says NatureScot is breaking the law by failing to make the killing of the protected species a last resort when management is required.

Responding to today's announcement of the 2020 killing figures by NatureScot, Trees for Life's Conservation Manager Alan McDonnell said: “Any increase in Scotland's overall numbers of beavers is a relief, but it is chilling to see this described as a 'conservation success' by NatureScot when beaver numbers have increased despite the continuing failure to make the killing of this protected species a genuine last resort when management is needed.

“The sad truth is NatureScot did not know the latest beaver population figures when it began issuing lethal control licenses, with no limits on the number of beavers that could be shot. We believe the agency's approach bends the law well beyond its limits.

“This led to the needless deaths of a fifth of Scotland's known beaver population in 2019 alone. Shockingly, we now know a further 115 beavers were shot in 2020. NatureScot has sat on this grim tally since December, refusing to confirm it until today's bid to hide the figures behind a welcome turn of events for the overall beaver population. This is such a waste of life and opportunity when nature is in crisis.”

Trees for Life says that if the Scottish Government allowed beavers which have unwanted impacts on farmland to be relocated to suitable areas around Scotland instead of being shot, the Government could achieve a win-win for nature and farmers.  

“There has got to be a better way. We face a nature emergency, and as UN's report just yesterday stated, climate breakdown is widespread, rapid and intensifying,” said Alan McDonnell.

“By allowing beavers to be relocated to suitable areas around Scotland instead of being shot when they have unwanted impacts on farmland, the Scottish Government could support a genuine nature-based solution.”

Robbie Kernahan, Director of Sustainable Growth at NatureScot, said: “Wildlife is declining in Scotland so this extensive survey which reveals an increasing beaver population is great news for nature in Scotland.  Beavers play a vital role in creating and restoring wetlands where other species can thrive, reducing downstream flooding and improving water quality. We also hope that many people in Scotland will enjoy spotting these sometimes elusive but fascinating animals, as they become more common.”

Trees for Life's legal challenge to beaver killing

Trees for Life is currently awaiting the outcome of its court challenge to the Scottish Government's policy on beaver killing – a policy which has tied NatureScot's hands on this issue and prevented a more progressive approach from being adopted.

At Scotland's Court of Session on 3 and 4 June, the charity presented detailed arguments that NatureScot is breaking the law by failing to make the killing of the protected species a genuine last resort when management is required.

The case aims to ensure a safer future for beavers – which build dams that create nature-rich, carbon-absorbing and flood-reducing wetlands – while benefitting farmers.

A ruling in the Trees for Life's favour could allow new sites to be identified across Scotland, in consultation with local people, to which beavers can be moved rather than being shot. The charity wants farmers to have options that help them avoid being forced to shoot much-loved animals, and to receive appropriate financial support when co-existing with beavers.

The Scottish Government's current refusal to allow beavers beyond their current range – even though NatureScot has identified over 100,000 hectares of suitable habitat – limits the options for Tayside farmers whose land or crops are damaged by beavers.

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