A SCOTS rewilding charity is to take the Scottish Government's nature agency to court over its "failure" to make the killing of Scotland's wild beavers a "genuine last resort" when the species needs to be managed.

Trees for Life, which is making the legal challenge has launched a £40,000 crowdfunding appeal to cover the costs of a judicial review aiming to protect the endangered species.

The Highlands-based charity says NatureScot is breaking the law by issuing lethal control licenses without exploring all other options.

In 2019 a fifth of Scotland’s beaver population was culled as a result of licenses being granted.

Since May 2019, Scotland’s beavers have been a protected species and require approval from the nature agency to destroy their dams, lodges or the animals themselves.

Figures released by the nature agency confirmed that 87 beavers were culled under licence in Tayside in 2019. The population in the area was estimated at around 450 in 2018.

There are fears that this could be replicated this year.

Trees for Life considers that NatureScot is failing in its duty to protect beavers and is breaking the law by issuing lethal control licenses without exploring all other options.

READ MORE: Fears for future of Scotland's beavers after 87 culled

Scottish Wildlife Trust said that that the level of culling was "unsustainable" and called for a new strategy for beavers, which includes the potential for strategic reintroductions into other areas of Scotland.


Scotland’s baby beavers were seen as no longer dependent on their mothers from August 17, meaning farmers with unwanted beavers on their land can apply for licences to shoot them.

The Scottish Government has argued that beavers cannot be relocated outside of their existing river catchment area and spread naturally from ranges in Knapdale in Argyll and Tayside.

This leaves farmers who have had their crops and property damaged by the animals with little choice other than to apply for licenses.

Trees for Life says that winning the legal challenge would help secure a better future for beavers, which can be key allies in tackling the nature and climate emergencies.

“This is a matter of law, not of opinion. There’s a strong legal case that NatureScot is breaking the law by failing to make killing of beavers a last resort when they have unwanted impacts on agricultural land,” said Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life's chief executive.

“It’s clear from our correspondence with NatureScot that it is unwilling to change approach and properly consider moving beavers as an alternative to killing. So we’re having to launch a judicial review to secure the future of Scotland’s habitat-creating, biodiversity-boosting, flood-preventing beavers, and prevent more needless loss of life.”

NatureScot has identified over 100,000 hectares of suitable habitat for beavers.

But Trees for Life pointed out that as the Scottish Government says beavers cannot be relocated to new areas within Scotland it "significantly limits" the options for Tayside farmers whose crops are damaged by beavers.

“The Scottish Government’s policy is making a mockery of beavers’ protected species status. By respecting the law and allowing relocation of beavers to suitable areas of Scotland, the Government could achieve a big nature-friendly, climate-friendly, farmer-friendly win,” said Alan McDonnell, Trees for Life’s conservation manager.

"It would simultaneously prevent damage to farmers’ fields, ensure farmers are less often put in the unpleasant position of having to shoot beavers, allow more areas to benefit from beavers’ positive impacts on ecosystems, and help secure the future of a much-loved species which most people want to see properly protected.”

A judicial review ruling in Trees for Life’s favour will ensure lethal control is a genuine last resort. Conservation charities and others will be able to identify – with proper community engagement – suitable sites around Scotland to which beavers could be moved and be safe and welcome.

“There are several options available to NatureScot where it sees a need to mitigate beavers’ impacts on farming – but instead of adopting these, it has chosen killing beavers as its go-to solution. This approach is beyond their authority and ultimately illegal,” said lawyer Adam Eagle, chief executive of The Lifescape Project, a legally specialist rewilding charity spearheading the litigation alongside Trees for Life.