Sharing our views: the Scottish Beaver Forum

Today’s blog is written by the Chair of the Scottish Beaver Forum and NatureScot’s Tayside & Grampian Area Manager, Denise Reed.

Beaver in Tayside. Copyright Neil Mitchell/NatureScot

In Scotland, beavers became a European Protected Species in May 2019. Their numbers have expanded across Tayside and beyond in recent years, centuries after they became extinct. Beavers are amazing ecosystem engineers, playing a vital role in creating habitats such as ponds and wetlands where other species thrive, alleviating flooding and improving water quality. But beavers also detrimentally impact on some areas of prime farmland by causing flooding of fields.

To ensure we have a shared approach to beaver conservation and management in Scotland, NatureScot established the Scottish Beaver Forum in 2017 to take into account the views of the many organisations which are affected or have an interest. The membership of the forum includes conservation bodies, land and fisheries managers and other government agencies. It meets regularly to help guide NatureScot on how to manage beavers.

A dam created by beavers in Tayside. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

We’d like to share what we discuss at these meetings, so here are some highlights from our most recent get-together at the end of September.

2020 Beaver Survey – First up was an update on the 2020 beaver survey, which is now underway and will compare the beaver presence with previous surveys done in 2012 and 2017. Forum members have supported NatureScot in alerting land managers to the survey and asking their memberships for any new beaver sightings. The survey will report in July 2021, but interim findings will be presented to the forum as work progresses. The last survey estimated there were about 433 beavers in Tayside in 114 territories.

Mitigation scheme – NatureScot has dedicated staff working with land managers to trial new and innovative ways to lessen the effects beavers sometimes have on prime agricultural land. Jenny Bryce, our beaver project manager, gave an update to the forum on progress with this three-year mitigation scheme, which has now been running for just over a year. We currently have 53 cases which have received at least one visit and advice. Many cases involve multiple elements (advice, tree protection, planting, flow devices, etc). The types of cases includes flow devices (7 installed), tree protection, beaver exclusion fencing, water gates, translocations and tree planting for bank stabilisation. As well, we now have a number of water level sensors and trail cameras to use to monitor the success of mitigation projects. The forum agreed that when we evaluate the overall scheme, we need to seek the perspectives of land managers and other stakeholders on the success of mitigation and the cost effectiveness of measures.

A flow device pipe on beaver dam in Tayside. ©Nature/Scot

Technical sub-groups – The forum identified some key areas where we still need to develop our advice and management techniques, including the following: the impact of beaver burrowing on bank erosion and flood embankments; impacts on riparian woodland; impacts on migratory fish, and how best to include beaver mitigation and conservation in future environmental support measures. To develop thinking on these areas, specialist technical groups have been set up and the first meetings will be held during October and November.

Trapping and translocation – While lethal control continues to be necessary as a last resort to prevent serious damage to agriculture, forum members are aware that the number of beavers killed last year caused some concern. This year, we are putting even greater effort to trap animals for translocation and move them to conservation projects in England. Since trapping started in August a total of 15 beavers have been successfully trapped and translocated. In 2019, 19 beavers were trapped and translocated to Knapdale and England.

One of the Tayside beavers which was trapped and moved to the National Trust’s Holnicote Estate in Exmoor in January 2020 for a fenced reintroduction project. © National Trust Images, Nick Upton

Beaver Benefits projects – We were all excited to start considering opportunities for “beaver benefits” projects.

Scottish Beavers (the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland) have provided details on how they wish to see further translocations from high conflict to low conflict areas. They gave their support to translocation and releases within and on the edge of the current range in Scotland, while emphasising that they believe strategic releases in further areas should be an option in the near future.

They see translocation as a positive way to support the Beaver Management Framework and mitigate the need for lethal control. While all releases will need to follow the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations they suggested that the level of consultation required should be proportionate. In particular, the process to be followed for translocation should take into account the considerable knowledge and experience base that has been developed in Scotland over the last 12 years, and reflect that beavers are a native mammal with European Protected Species status. 

Manufacture of a mesh cage to prevent beavers from blocking a flow pipe with sticks. © NatureScot

The next step is for NatureScot to call a meeting of those that have approached us with proposals for ‘beaver benefits’ projects to coordinate efforts and resources. The types of projects this could include are:

  1. Conservation translocations within and on the edge of current range – for example, to restore and enhance wetlands, to deliver nature-based solutions such as reducing soil erosion and flood risk, or to enhance wildlife watching and public engagement opportunities.
  2. Opportunities for surveying and monitoring beaver impacts.
  3. Preparing areas for beaver population expansion – for example, enhancing habitats. NatureScot have recently appointed a graduate placement to help develop this area of work and we expect will be reporting on progress in future updates.
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