It is time that Holyrood came to a decision about beavers. Are they to stay or not? Until this is settled, they have no legal status and can be shot at will. More beavers have been killed in Scotland since the end of the Knapdale trial than during its whole five years, because of frustration that no-one knew whether they would be able to claim compensation for any damage they caused. If they were officially accepted, they would come under an EU directive and the measures that could be taken to mitigate any disturbance would be clearly defined - and not include shooting, unless under license. If they are not then everyone will know just where they stand.
Pregnant beavers shot by landowners in Tayside
Scottish beavers on twitter
Scottish beavers on /facebook
Those of us who saw the fascinating presentation by Olly Hemmings two years ago know that beavers are a keystone species, creating bio-diversity wherever they colonise.
In areas where there are beavers and beaver dams, there are more fish (beavers are vegetarian, so they don't deplete fish stocks or raid fish farms) more dragonflies, more regeneration of young trees from the stumps of the 4inch thick hazel and alder they prefer to eat.
They don't ravage crops - most of their activities are within 20 metres of water, occasionally 50 metres.
They dam smaller streams, not large rivers.
The Knapdale ones have been exhaustively tested for pathogens, and are free of any which can cause damage to livestock or transfer to humans. Those Tayside individuals which have been caught and tested are also free from serious pathogens.
On the headwaters of rivers do an excellent job of creating shallow areas where extra water can be caught and slow down the flooding lower downstream.
Landowners on the flatter lower reaches of the Tay are obviously more concerned than those upstream and in Knapdale about the effect of dams, and it is here that the shootings have occurred. At the moment it is not illegal to shoot them, though it is illegal to handle the carcass, and the death should be reported to the appropriate authority who remove the animal for a post-mortem. Not all shootings are reported.
Beavers are listed on various annexes to Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora. This is given legal effect in Scotland by the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended)
( Beaver management actions and derogation (licence) requirements under the Habitats Regulations2. Some of these actions may also fall within other regulatory regimes.
Non-destructive actions short of derogation e.g. beaver netting for river banks; beaver fencing for crop protection; anti-beaver paint for timber protection
Destructive actions short of derogation e.g. destruction of dams not associated with a lodge
*Actions requiring derogation* e.g. destruction of dams associated with a lodge; translocation; killing)
Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone, deputy convener of Holyrood's cross-party group on animal welfare, has called on ministers to "get off the fence"
The Scottish Environment Minister is Aileen McLeod
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