A few months on from the publication of the 2019 beaver licencing statistics, we take a closer look at the ongoing work with partners to reduce levels of beaver control measures in future.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has supported efforts to bring beavers back to Scotland for many years, and beavers became a protected species here in May 2019. Beavers are ecosystem engineers and provide huge benefits to people and nature, improving water quality and flow, and creating new habitats that foster many other species. However their burrowing and dam building activities can also occasionally cause significant problems, especially on farmland.
This is particularly the case in parts of Tayside which has some of the most productive farmland in Scotland and can be very susceptible to flooding. The beavers in Tayside and surrounding areas are the result of unauthorised releases or escapes, with many animals settling on Prime Agricultural Land where they have had serious impacts.
In such circumstances it may be necessary to manage beavers and their dams under special licences issued by SNH. We reported in May that in the first year we issued 45 species licences which permitted either lethal control or dam removal. These were granted when there was no other effective solution to prevent serious agricultural damage. Under these licences, 15 beavers were trapped and moved to either Knapdale or trial reintroduction projects in England, 83 beaver dams were removed and 87 beavers were shot by trained and accredited controllers.
While it has always been clear to both SNH and our partners that lethal control of beavers would sometimes be necessary as a last resort, we recognise the upset that these cull figures caused and are working hard behind the scenes to look at how we can reduce the level of lethal control measures going forward.
Co-operation is key and our beaver work is informed by the Scottish Beaver Forum, a group of partners representing conservation, farming, fisheries, and other interests, and chaired by SNH. We were pleased to bring together the forum by video conference recently for a productive discussion on a range of different alternative measures to lethal control.
This includes working with land managers to increase the live trapping of beavers for relocation to conservation projects in England, where demand remains high. Beavers are also expanding their range naturally in Scotland, and we will be considering opportunities to translocate animals from areas of high to low conflict within existing catchments, in line with the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations.
A repeat survey of the Tay and Forth catchments will take place this year to give the most up to date information on the beaver population and range to help inform these conversations. This will include modelling of beaver habitat suitability and dam capacity which could help identify which areas are most or least suitable for translocations.
We are also continuing work on mitigation measures as an alternative to culling. In the first year our Beaver Mitigation Scheme provided advice and support for more than 40 cases, including installing flow devices, trialling water-gates, tree protection work, exclusion fencing and bank protection to protect agricultural land, infrastructure and property. Demand for advice remains high with good engagement and mitigation proving to be successful, in many cases with ongoing dialogue.
We look forward to continuing to work with forum partners to progress this work over the coming months, with the aim of reducing the level of licenced culls in 2020. Meanwhile 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.