Scottish beavers saved from culls

The translocation of Scottish beavers from problem to range sites has now been given the green light, saving the species from culls, reports Leoma Williams.

Beaver floating in water eating lily

Despite being classed as a European Protected Species since 2019, more than 200 beavers have been legally culled in the past two years under the authorisation of NatureScot. This government conservation agency issued these lethal control licences under the auspices of protecting farms, woodland, and infrastructure considered at risk from destructive beaver activity.

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Predictably, this policy has been very controversial. Beavers are a charismatic, and recently re-introduced, keystone species with a significant positive influence on the environment.

A new ruling allowing for their translocation from one site to another may however signal an end to this contentious chapter in Scotland’s conservation history.

In the place of culls, many conservationists have called for beavers to be moved from sites in which they are causing problems to those in which they would provide benefits. However, until now, the Scottish Government has not allowed beavers to be relocated to new areas in Scotland.

In a policy turnaround, a proposal has now been approved, and a licence awarded enabling the release of two families and one pair of beavers, without the need for enclosure fencing. These particular beavers will be relocated from agricultural land in Tayside, where culling licences have already been issued, to a working farm in Perthshire. The ruling should effectively save these beavers from unnecessary destruction, providing a humane solution to the problem.

This translocation proposal came from Tom Bowser, owner of Argaty Red Kites, a working farm that is also home to an award-winning red kite project. This farm is already within the current range of beavers.

“We are delighted that our application has been approved and cannot wait to bring beavers to our farm,” says Tom Bowser, owner of Argaty Red Kites. “It will be such a thrill to introduce our visitors to these wonderful animals and to witness the beavers’ amazing biodiversity-boosting work.”

Tom Bowser holding a fluffy red kite chick
Tom Bowser, Argaty Red Kites./Credit: Richard Bunting.

Beavers were reintroduced into Scotland in 2009, after being hunted to extinction in the 16th  century. This reintroduction after 400 years came about due to a recognition of the extraordinary benefits beavers can provide to ecosystems. By constructing dams these natural engineers slow the flow of water through rivers, creating new wetlands, and generating habitats for a wide range of species from dragonflies to otters.

This policy change allowing translocation should enable beavers to continue to provide these vital ecosystem services in areas where they can provide the greatest value, instead of being culled as ‘pests’ in areas where their engineering capabilities are not appreciated.

“I’m delighted that Argaty is to be the first edge-of-range translocation site in Scotland, bringing beavers from Tayside to where they are needed and wanted,” says Mark Ruskell, a Member of the Scottish Parliament who is in support of the project.

“There has been a terrible over-reliance on shooting beavers in recent years. This translocation is the most humane option, which will grow beaver populations in the wider area – benefiting the wider environment and enhancing the experience for visitors and locals alike.”

landscape shot of farmland with stream running through it
Argaty Red Kites from the air./Credit: James Shooter/Scotlandbigpicture.com

It is hoped that the success of this proposal may spur on others, and could even aid future translocation projects,

“Obtaining the licence has been challenging, has taken a long time and a lot of hard work, and we hope this will help the process become more streamlined for viable projects in the futures,” says Tom.

The translocation to Argaty will be financially supported and supervised by the Beaver Trust, a nature restoration charity that also breeds and releases beavers.

“We are absolutely delighted for Argaty and Tom’s family farm to have achieved such an important and positive step forward for Scottish beavers and beaver conservation across Britain.” Says Eva Bishop, a spokesperson for the trust.

“We hope more land managers are inspired by the team at Argaty and are always glad of the opportunity to work supporting viable projects like this one. Translocation is an important tool in the mitigation toolbox if undertaken responsibly, so we are delighted to see this progress.”


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Main image: A beaver swimming. © scotlandbigpicture.com