They have long been recognised as nature’s engineers – bringing down trees, building dams and redirecting rivers as they transform their environment.

But beavers are at the centre of a legal battle after Scotland’s supreme civil court gave rewilding charity Trees for Life permission to challenge the Government’s killing policy through a judicial review.

The group says the government’s nature agency NatureScot is breaking the law by failing to make the killing of endangered wild beavers a last resort when they need managing.

In December, Trees for Life applied to the Court of Session for a judicial review.

Its recent public crowdfunder to cover the legal costs raised over £60,000.

The case aims to ensure a safer future for beavers, which can be key allies in tackling the nature and climate crises because their dams create nature-rich and flood-reducing wetlands.

Trees for Life also says any changes to management need to be practical and effective in protecting farmers’ interests.

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In a ruling announced yesterday, the Court found NatureScot’s objections to be unfounded and that the case could proceed immediately to a formal judicial review, which the Court will hear later this year.

Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s chief executive, said: “We’re grateful to the court for granting permission for our judicial review to be heard, which we hope will lead to a more nature-friendly, climate-friendly and farmer-friendly approach to this endangered species in Scotland.”

A judicial review – a court review of official decision-makers’ decisions and actions to ensure they are lawful – can only proceed when there is recognised legal ground and if the applicant has the legal right, known as “standing”, to bring a challenge.

Lawyer Adam Eagle, chief executive officer of legal specialist rewilding charity The Lifescape Project, which is spearheading the litigation with Trees for Life, said: “In its decision, the Court has found that Trees for Life has the legal right to challenge NatureScot on this important issue, despite the agency’s attempt to avoid the issues being fully aired at a substantive trial.

“This step forward also shows that we have a real prospect of succeeding in this legal challenge, which is now scheduled for a final hearing in May this year.”

In legal arguments, Trees for Life’s lead Counsel, Aidan O’Neill, QC, explained the importance of this case for the protection of the natural world and successfully argued that Trees for Life’s case has a real prospect of success at the final substantive hearing.

Since the Government declared beavers to be legally protected in 2019, NatureScot has issued dozens of killing licences when beavers have local impacts on farmland – even though laws on protected species require management to have the least possible impact on their conservation.

A judicial review ruling that lethal control should only be a genuine last resort could allow conservationists and others to identify, with proper community engagement, suitable sites across Scotland to which beavers can be moved and be welcome – boosting biodiversity, creating wildlife tourism opportunities and preventing damage to farmland elsewhere.

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Currently, the Scottish Government is blocking such relocations, even though NatureScot has identified more than 100,000 hectares of suitable habitat.

This approach is limiting options for Tayside farmers whose crops are damaged by beavers, often putting them in the position of having to shoot the popular animals.

Now back in Britain after being hunted to extinction over four centuries ago for their meat, fur and oil, beavers remain at risk as a wild species.

It is thought as many as 240 beavers may have been culled in the Tayside area in recent years before the mammals were protected.

NatureScot was contacted for comment.