Licensed beaver killings have been ordered to halt and previous culls authorised by a Scottish Government agency have been deemed unlawful following a court ruling.

TreesforLife sought a judicial review claiming NatureScot is breaking the law by failing to make the killing of beavers a last resort when land management is required.

The charity is calling for the protected species to be relocated to other parts of Scotland rather than culled.

In a written judgment published on Thursday, Lady Carmichael said: “The first respondent (NatureScot) has a general practice of issuing licences without giving reasons for doing so.

“In approaching matters on the basis that it has no duty to give reasons for granting a licence, the first respondent has erred in law

“The contention is that the licences should have been reviewed and revoked because they should never have been issued in the first place.”

The court ruled NatureScot must set out openly and fully the reasons why it believes any future licence to kill beavers should be granted.


A Eurasian beaver

Out of the five complaints issued by Trees for Life under consideration by the court, four were rejected.

In response to the ruling, Alan McDonnell, Trees for Life conservation manager, said: “The Scottish Government must take this ruling seriously, and it means that from here on in there can be no more rubber-stamping of licensed killing of beavers.

“This is an important victory for accountability and transparency, which will benefit everyone including conservationists and farmers.”

He said relocating beavers rather than culling them will boost biodiversity, help tackle the climate breakdown and create wildlife tourism opportunities.

Mr McDonnell added: “The Scottish Government has been blocking relocation of beavers to areas of Scotland where they belong but are missing, but today’s ruling creates hope that this will change so that farmers will no longer be put in a position where they have no choice but to shoot much-loved animals.”

NatureScot's Director of Sustainable Growth, said Robbie Kernahan, has welcomed the court's decision, saying it "vindicated" the group's approach to licensing. 

READ MORE: More than 200 beavers officially killed in Scotland since they became protected species

Mr Kernahan said: "Of the five complaints under consideration by the Court, four were rejected entirely.

"The Court found only one complaint to be well founded – not issuing written reasons with licenses - on what amounts to a technical point of law.

"Most importantly, the criticism of our underlying licensing decisions was entirely rejected by the court and this does not affect the legality of any acts carried out under the affected licences."


Beavers on the Tay

Mr Kernahan added: “We have been working with partners for 25 years to bring back beavers to Scotland because of the many benefits they bring to both people and nature, particularly in this crucial time of climate emergency.

"We will continue to listen to and respond to all those involved, through the Scottish Beaver Forum and other avenues, to make licences fair and proportionate.

"But in certain circumstances, beavers can cause problems. In those specific situations where beavers pose a risk of serious damage to farmland or where they occasionally cause a public health and safety concern, we issue species control licences accordingly.”

READ MORE: Perth home to first city-dwelling beavers

Beavers have become naturalised on the River tay since escaping or being freed from private collections sometime in the 1990s. The Scottish government designated the aquatic mammals a protected species from 1 May 2019.

Hundreds of the animals are thought to be living free on the Tay - with Perth being identified as the first city in the UK to have a population of 'urban' beavers earlier this year.

But there are concerns the dam-building creatures damage agricultural land, bringing them into conflict with farmers. Records show 87 beavers were shot by the end of 2019.

As well as culling the animals, NatureScot has sponsored a programme of trapping and relocation, with some beavers being transported to Knappdale, where a scientific study of the species re-introduction is underway.