Beavers given protected status

A report from local MSP Kenneth Gibson

In February, the SNP Government announced that the Eurasian or European beaver will be added to the list of European Protected Species of Animals, protected under Scottish law.

This means that from 01 May 2019, shooting will only be allowed under licence, which will be managed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). All licenses will be issued in accordance with the law on European Protected Species and it will otherwise become an offence to kill, injure or capture the animals. A consultation in October last year received more than 500 responses, with a majority (83%) supporting the move.

The SNP Government believes in the highest standards of animal welfare – for both wild and domestic animals – and it is high time that beavers enjoy the same legal protection as other species such as bats, dolphins and wildcats.

There are few species that have such a significant and largely positive influence on the health and function of our ecosystems. The importance of beavers to Scotland’s biodiversity is huge. They hugely benefit nature, creating habitats such as ponds and wetlands where other species thrive, as well as alleviating flooding and improving water quality.

Of course, beavers can have a significant impact on farming, which is why the SNP Government have been working closely with farmers and partner agencies to establish management plans, as well as a licensing system for culling when there is no other alternative.

Beavers became extinct in Scotland in the 16th century, mainly due to over-hunting. However, between 2009 and 2014, sixteen Eurasian beavers were successfully introduced to Knapdale Forest, just across the Clyde from Arran in Argyll and Bute and easily reached by ferry from Lochranza. The benefits and impacts of the beavers are independently monitored by SNH. This was the first successful reintroduction of any wild mammal to the UK and has allowed further, unregulated releases of beavers in Tayside, where the population now stands at around 500. The return of beavers can also boost wildlife tourism. Knapdale’s beavers have attracted visitors from around the world, bringing social and economic benefits to the area.

This announcement is an important milestone in the hard work being done to ensure that beavers can be protected and live in Scotland alongside people long into the future.