Around a fifth of Scotland’s beavers were killed under licence in Scotland last year, prompting criticism from conservationists.

Statistics from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) indicate 87 beavers were killed in 2019, while 15 were trapped alive and released.

Beavers are found in Scotland in Knapdale in Argyll, in Tayside and in the Forth.

The Knapdale population began under a licensed trial in 2009.

The animals were first recorded in the wild in Tayside around 2006 having escaped from captive collections or been illegally released.

The beaver population in the Tay and Forth was estimated to be 433 in 2017/18.

Beavers were given protected status in May 2009 but licences to kill or remove them are issued to prevent damage to farmers’ land.

READ MOREPregnant beaver found shot dead on Perthshire riverbank

Sarah Robinson, director of conservation for the Scottish Wildlife Trust, expressed “grave concerns” for the future of beavers in Scotland.

She said lethal control “must always be a last resort” and that there are a number of areas in Scotland, such as the Cairngorms, where beavers could be introduced.

She added: “We hope the Scottish Government will give strong consideration to a more positive and ambitious approach, developed in partnership with the cross-sector Scottish Beaver Forum.”

Scottish Greens environment spokesman Mark Ruskell said: “These are shocking figures from an agency whose primary duty is to protect Scotland’s wildlife.

“The fact that a fifth of Scotland’s beaver population has been killed as part of an accreditation, management and licensing framework is nothing less than a scandal.

“The Scottish Government may have enjoyed some positive headlines from declaring beavers protected, but they then issued licences for a fifth of them to be killed.

“SNH’s conservation role needs to be focused on ensuring vested economic interests are not put above Scotland’s protected wildlife.”

Robbie Kernahan, SNH director of sustainable growth, said: “It’s always been clear to both us and our partners that lethal control of beavers will sometimes be necessary under licence as a last resort when other mitigation is unlikely to be effective.

“Some of the well documented and most serious issues have occurred on the most productive areas of agricultural land in Scotland.

“Due to their generally being well-drained, low-lying and flat, these areas are often vulnerable to beaver burrowing and dam building.

“As we work with farmers to trial new and innovative measures for reducing the impacts of beavers on this type of ground, we hope to see less need for control measures in the coming years.

“We also expect to see the beaver population expanding away from high conflict areas and into suitable habitat where beavers can thrive and bring the positive benefits we want to see.”