Last week, NatureScot launched the Shared Approach to Wildlife Management which sets out how different interest groups can work together to help ensure healthy and valued populations of wildlife across Scotland. In the first of a series of blogs, we look at how this approach can help us navigate some of the opportunities and challenges arising from the return of beavers to Scotland.
Wildlife management is a key part of our work. It includes a range of targeted interventions including species conservation, species reintroductions and translocation, mitigation and species control. It is an integral part of our ambition to help Scotland secure a nature rich future.
What is the shared approach?
The shared approach is a way of working together on wildlife management issues, even when opinions differ, as we regularly see on social media and in the press. At its heart are the principles of how we can work in partnership; to respect each other’s views, build knowledge, share information, develop a common understanding, clearly communicate decisions, pursue best practice in animal welfare, and ultimately nurture the best outcomes for people and nature. We aim to apply these principles across a wide range of wildlife management issues and to expand the list of organisations signed up to this approach.
What does it mean for beavers?
On 1st May 2019, we were delighted to see the Scottish Government give beavers European Protected Species status in Scotland. This is something we have been working towards for a long time and now we have beavers ranging from the mouth of the river Tay in the East, through to the Clyde catchment in the West. The decision to protect beavers recognised that they provide a variety of important benefits for biodiversity and a range of nature-based solutions in the face of climate change; increasing ground water storage, stabilising water flow, contributing to carbon storage, reducing soil erosion and reducing flood risk. Added to that they are enjoyed by the public and wildlife-watchers alike with economic potential through ecotourism.
However, the largest population of beavers in Scotland is currently in Tayside and is the result of unauthorised releases before 2019. Beavers from these releases quickly established in those parts of Tayside which are low-lying and flat with highly productive agricultural land which makes them vulnerable to serious flooding and damage from beaver burrowing and dam building. Herein presents the challenge; how can we realise the benefits that beavers can bring, whilst at the same time minimising their impact on local interests, particularly in farming, and infrastructure?
This is exactly the sort of circumstance where the principles of a Shared Approach to Management can be applied and the right balance in management secured.
Underpinning the new protected species status of beavers, a Beaver Management Framework was prepared. This Framework, which is available on NatureScot’s website, sets out a suite of policy, guidance and actions to manage beavers in a way that delivers these benefits, whilst allowing negative impacts to be minimised. This Framework was successfully developed in consultation with the Scottish Beaver Forum (a forum of key partners representing conservation, farming, fisheries, forestry and other interests). The decision to allow beavers to remain in Scotland was ultimately founded on the willingness of stakeholders with differing perspectives to work together to agree this management framework. Inevitably there are differences of opinion and difficult conversations on contentious issues such as the use of lethal control, the ambition around further reintroductions and who should bear the costs of beaver damage.
Working collaboratively can take time to build relationships and understanding among the different interest groups, but to realise the best outcomes for beaver conservation and the benefits beavers can bring, there needs to be broad support from both the public and from land managers, whose interests will potentially be affected by beavers if not presently, but potentially down the line as their range expands, either naturally or through further carefully planned and supported releases.
We need to build our knowledge and demonstrate where and how beavers can deliver biodiversity benefit and ecosystem services and at the same time develop approaches and support mechanisms to minimise the negative impacts on those most impacted by beavers.
Beavers have been absent for more than 400 years and whilst embracing their great potential as ecosystem engineers we also need to work together on the difficult issues, taking a shared approach to enhance their future.