As the only mammal apart from humans which can engineer its own environment, the beaver population’s ongoing expansion was always going to be a subject of much debate – but by bringing together all sides, NatureScot believes that a mutually beneficial co-existence is possible. By Ann Wallace

 

THE return of beavers to Scotland has been the subject of much debate since it was first discussed in the mid-1990s, and throughout a trial project in Argyll and unofficial releases in Tayside.

Following the Scottish Government’s decision to allow the population to expand further, a new ‘national route map’ has been published, which aims to allow beavers to co-exist successfully with communities across Scotland over the coming decades.

Scotland’s Beaver Strategy 2022-2045 aims to empower and support communities to maximise the environmental and wider benefits of beavers, while minimising negative impacts through effective management and mitigation.  

The strategy represents one of the most ambitious and forward-looking approaches to managing and conserving a species ever carried out in Britain. It was developed through a collaborative process involving more than 50 stakeholders, and was facilitated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Conservation Planning Specialist Group (CPSG). 

A cross-stakeholder organising team including representatives from Nature Scot, National Farmers Union of Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Land & Estates and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland helped to steer the process.

Dr Martin Gaywood, NatureScot’s species projects manager and organisational lead for Scotland’s Beaver Strategy, explains: “We wanted to develop a more positive way forward for beaver management. The issue has been debated since the early 1990s, with many of the general public in favour of beaver restoration, while some stakeholders have raised concerns.

HeraldScotland:

“Supporters highlight the environmental and socio-economic benefits the species can bring and there has been frustration at what some have perceived as the slow rate of progress in reintroducing the species across Scotland. 

“Others have voiced their concerns over the impacts of beaver activities on certain land uses, fisheries and some conservation interests, and there have been significant challenges for some land managers in Tayside where damage has been caused in low-lying areas.”

Beavers are an unusual species, explains Dr Gaywood. “The beaver is the only mammal, aside from us, which engineers its own environment,” he says. “It can change its ecosystem, restoring rivers and creating wetlands, through activities such as damming and the felling of trees, and increase biodiversity, which has implications for the species who live in those habitats. 

“Equally, those activities can create problems, so the aim of the strategy is to increase the benefits of restoring beavers in Scotland, looking at how we can adapt to beaver presence and to live alongside them and where necessary managing negative impacts  – fundamentally, achieving a balance between nature and wild spaces, and the species who live in those spaces.” 

The situation had become “polarised”, adds Dr Gaywood.

“Some people wanted to see restoration happen very quickly, others did not want it to happen at all,” he explains. “Developing a nationwide strategy was a way of bringing people together to provide them with a chance to talk about their concerns.”

Jamie Copsey,  the IUCN CPSG facilitator of Scotland’s Beaver Strategy, agrees.

“This was a chance to make sure as many voices as possible were heard,” he adds. “There are lots of people with an interest in this issue, so we wanted to bring them round the table for a discussion about the way forward.

HeraldScotland:

“In the end, I think we had around 80 people representing more than 50 different organisations, which was fantastic.”

The tried and tested IUCN CPSG-facilitated process is used in species projects around the world – here in Scotland, the IUCN and NatureScot previously worked together on the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan.

Dr Gaywood says: “We found this to be a powerful approach dealing with complex conservation topics. Although this was a more challenging approach, the final document we have is the result of negotiation and consensus – it is a real achievement and a hugely positive step forward.”

Throughout the process, collaboration has been key. Mr Copsey says: “It’s unusual on a national level to recognise that top-down planning, where the plan affects the communities in which people live and work, has its limitations. Scotland is leading the way, and it is great to be part of such a national effort, bringing together diverse needs and interests to agree on a common way forward for such an emotive species as the Eurasian beaver. 

“Ultimately, we have a biodiversity crisis and a climate emergency, and we need to tackle that in a collaborative way.”
A new Scottish Beaver Advisory Group, made up of key organisations, will now work together to help take the strategy forward, with its first meeting being arranged for early in the New Year.

HeraldScotland:

NatureScot is leading work to implement the strategy, including mapping to prioritise suitable catchments, and conversations with a range of individuals and organisations to discuss possible new areas for beavers. “This includes talking to public bodies like the national parks and Forestry and Land Scotland, to identify the best potential sites,” says Dr Gaywood.

“The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) has, for example, recently committed to taking a lead role in bringing beavers to the park, and FLS are looking at a number of sites.”

In the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, RSPB Scotland is leading on a proposal to move beavers to the Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve, while Trees for Life, along with landowners and Forestry and Land Scotland, have recently held a consultation on a proposal for the Glen Affric area. 

Any proposal must follow the best practice guidance set out in The Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations, which importantly includes consulting with local communities, organisations and stakeholders.

As this work progresses NatureScot will continue to provide advice and support for managing and mitigating beaver impacts, and work with organisations to ensure the necessary research and innovation is developed.
www.nature.scot

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Beavers expanding 24 years after plan was first floated floated

Successful collaborative approach is set to continue with plans to restore the species to new areas

ONCE common in Scotland, the Eurasian beaver was hunted to extinction here more than 400 years ago. Since the mid-1990s the reintroduction of beavers to Scotland has been a major topic of interest and debate. 

A national consultation on the feasibility and desirability of reintroduction was held in 1998. 

HeraldScotland:

A beaver (Castor fiber) swims in Loch Coille-Bharr – one of the Beaver trial release sites in Knapdale, Argyll ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot 

 

A reintroduction in Knapdale, Argyll was designed and in 2009 beavers were released at the trial site, the first licensed reintroduction of a mammalian species in Britain. In the meantime, there were increasing numbers of reports of beavers in Tayside, resulting from accidental or unauthorised releases. 

Scottish Ministers announced in 2016 that they were minded to allow the Tayside and Knapdale populations to remain. This was formalised in 2019 when the Scottish Parliament approved legislation that made the Eurasian beaver a European Protected Species in Scotland. 

This decision was made alongside the launch of a Beaver Management Framework that set out approaches to mitigation, support, licensing, translocations and other related issues. 

Before November 2021, moving or “translocating” beavers to Scottish sites outside the Tayside and Knapdale areas was not supported. This changed when Scottish Ministers announced a new approach allowing translocations to take place across the country. 

The production of Scotland’s Beaver Strategy is timely and necessary, according to NatureScot’s Species Projects Manager. 

Dr Martin Gaywood explains: “This is a long-term vision for 2045 and a framework of action over the coming decade, 2022-2032, which will steer efforts to identify and actively expand the population, alongside appropriate management and mitigation, and necessary research and innovation.”

The strategy is accompanied by an implementation plan setting out each of the actions and who will be responsible for delivering on them – many of these will be led by NatureScot but others will be led by other organisation/stakeholders.

The new Scottish Beaver Advisory Group, made up of key organisations, will meet early next year to help take the strategy forward. 

“One of the things about which we felt very strongly was that this document, once produced, should not just sit on a shelf gathering dust,” says Dr Gaywood. 

“It has to be taken forward, and used, so with that in mind, a governance group has been set up to ensure a range of views are heard.

“Rather than being a product of NatureScot or Scottish Government alone, it is owned by all the stakeholders involved and draws on all of our experiences so far, reflecting both aspirations and concerns as we look to the future of the species. 

“Continuing the joined-up approach that has been taken to developing the strategy is vital, and we look forward to working with partners as we progress this.”