British Beavers Back to stay

rewildingEurasian Beavers living in northern Britain, Scotland actually, are to be given legal protection so that they can spread their range naturally.

This is a big step forward for rewilding proponents and anti-de-wilding proponents but I forecast trouble ahead. Already the NFUS is up in arms about this and has said that proper management of the species would be needed and John Mackay, a potato grower from Angus, is reported as suggesting that proper management might include destroying Beaver dams wherever they are built. It’s always good to have an evidence-based position and seek the common ground (which might be a bit sodden in this case).

I hope to post a guest blog from the Scottish Wildlife Trust on this subject on Monday – the rewilding theme continues.

Here are links to news coverage of the announcement by the Scottish government:






I’m delighted that Beavers are back and partly through properly regulated pilot projects but they are also back through illegal releases. How should we feel about that?

I think that conservationists are getting fed up with the illegal killing of protected species such as Pine Martens, Wildcats, Golden Eagles and Hen Harriers (to name but a few) and we will see more and more unlicensed and therefore illegal reintroductions going on both north and south of the Border. I’d be surprised if van loads of Pine Martens aren’t already finding their ways to English forests (as well as properly licensed to Welsh ones) and more of this will happen. Mammals may be a better bet than most bird species as they sometimes remain largely unnoticed until their populations are reasonably well-established.

Given that governments north and south of the Border are being slow to clamp down on illegality which kills protected species, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if those who wish to help those and other persecuted species think they’ll bend the rules too. Raptor persecution is illegal but happens routinely and has massive impacts on the status of protected species whereas a reintroduction project requires licences and all that red tape that landowners usually complain about. You can’t let some native White-tailed Eagles go in East Anglia but you can let 40+ million non-native Pheasants out each year. It’s all a bit of a mess.  And that’s what happens when the criminality is allowed to continue.





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29 Replies to “British Beavers Back to stay”

  1. I know how I feel about illegal releases, I feel that conservationists do more than most to give governments of all stripes every opportunity to say yes and do the right thing, we bend over backwards and forwards for them. If even after all that they still dither and dotter then we have a responsibility to act on the real and solid evidence which they have failed on.

    I stress the real and solid evidence part, so as to ensure that this is not taken as an excuse for potato farms and grouse shooters to act on unscientific and prejudiced bollocks.

    1. Cheers. Here's to many more Beverleys in the near future.

  2. The reason that farmers wish a fast track management scheme is so that farming may continue to be carried out in the intensive to the bank top way currently practiced. The alternative is to give some of that land over to natural processes and the public benefits of diffuse pollution reduction and water quality improvements as well as the recovery of riparian habitats. I suppose we paid for the intensification in the first place and I suppose we're going to pay for the de-intensification too.

  3. Oh sorry, and another thing, Roseanna Cunningham is to be congratulated on finding this 'issue' in the long grass where politicians had hidden it for years and years and making a relatively bold decision. Perhaps this and the Deer Review in Scotland might show that we are fed up with the degradation of nature for private benefit and are ready to more aggressively pursue the public benefit.

  4. Incidentally, and just so as to forestall any threats of retaliation to Old Farmer Mackay, dumping a bunch of blight infested potato and tomato leaves and plants in a potato farmer's field in Angus is as illegal as raptor persecution. So I hope those vans picking up pine marten and beaver will not also dump off some material that really could literally wipe out an entire year's harvest; unlike the beaver.

    1. R22,think you would find that potato blight does not happen in fields of potato even if every garden,allotment in the area is infected as spraying each field regularly prevents it.
      A very necessary operation even those against spraying should approve of.
      approving illegal reintroduction makes you lose the high ground when being critical of H Hs persecution.

  5. Great news that the beaver is back! After all those years! I'm planning a trip to see them soon! This keystone species will bring some major benefits to the environment!

  6. Here was me thinking that Beaver Dams would help stop flooding downstream by holding back the water. Or is it just Old Farmer Mackay and others are doing what they always have done and are never going to change or try out new ways so that wild animals can live in peace beside humans.

    1. Yes very strange all those farmers complaining about beavers and not upstream grouse moors, deer stalking estates and highly subsidised marginal agriculture that is really contributing to high grade agricultural land being underwater. There should be an immediate action to create riparian woodland in the uplands and move beavers to it - much more effective than dredging to stop businesses, homes etc getting flooded. I wonder if those farmers fearing the loss of 'centuries old' farmland get the hump when one of their number sell it off for development?

  7. Good blog Mark, when one has such a reactionary and vested interested Government in Westminster, totally unsupportive of nature conservation, it is indeed hard to stick to he rules.

  8. I believe that restoration of beavers to British water catchments is a desirable thing and I welcome Roseanna Cunningham's announcement. However, whilst I believe that beavers can bring about benefits both to other wildlife and in terms of slowing the flow of water through catchments and thereby helping to reduce downstream flood risk, I do think it is important to recognize that they can also have some detrimental affects. A catchment-wide reduction in flood risk may develop but, locally, individual land-owners/occupiers may suffer flooding as a direct result of the beavers' dam building and suffer a loss of earnings as a result.
    I certainly do not support farmers like Mackay taking unilateral action and destroying dams in reaction to such damage (or potential damage) and would hope they are punished appropriately if they do, but we do need to recognise that farmers are not just some subsidy-gobbling bogey men intent on destroying the environment but are, like the rest of us, working hard to make a living and cannot be expected to simply swallow losses resulting from schemes such as this on behalf of the wider good.
    If the reintroduction is to be successful it is important therefore that there are suitable mechanisms for compensating farmers and others who suffer economic loss as a result of the beavers and also perhaps for removing beavers in some cases where alternative management measures are unsuccessful or impossible.
    I don't suggest that the Scottish government should roll over and acquiesce to every demand the NFU makes on this subject but I think the concerns of the NFU should not be dismissed out of hand either. As with raptors it is only too easy for beavers to be bumped off with little chance of detection and, prior to Cunningham's announcement, farmers have already been taking matters into their own hands and shooting beavers. It therefore seems to me that, as far as possible, it is necessary to foster the goodwill of farmers as reliance on enforcement alone will probably not be sufficient to allow the beaver population to thrive and spread.

    1. Perhaps some diversionary feeding (of academics) would kill two birds with one stone. Quick redirection of the £50,000 bung for Stephen Redpath to study beaver conflict?

    2. I completely agree Jonathan. There may well need to be the occasional judicious intervention where necessary, and not just to protect farmland. It is possible that there may be occasions where beaver dams pose a risk to archeaological features or certain sensitive wildlife habitats and removal and relocation might be a sensible strategy.

  9. Great news, obviously I realise they may not always be appropriate, but these situations can be managed on a local basis.

    1. Managing things "on a local basis" is what has brought us to the present slaughter of raptors by landowners and their servants- the local basis means going back to feudalism.

  10. I'm a farmer although small for now but come from a large intensive dairy farming family. I'm very happy to see beavers return to the UK. Where I live now we have a small valley full of wet woodland that I would love to have and hope one day will have a family of beavers living in it. On the other hand please accept that beavers will probably need managing as some places are not suitable for them, this may include potato fields. If you had invested huge amounts.of money into the machinery and infrastructure to build a business providing something we all need three times a day maybe you would also be worried that an animal could move in cause damage and you would have no method for managing them.

  11. Schemes like these need careful monitoring as I seem to remember lots of comments on this blog saying dredging Somerset levels would not work.
    Well the fact is no amount of flooding happened recently there worth speaking of while areas in South West suffered badly.
    Proof the dredging worked so far,indeed flooding stopped trains to Exeter for something like a week.

    1. Flooding on the Levels Action Group have eyes on every pump and sluice - the former levels of incompetence will be difficult to achieve again. People Power works.

    2. Surely it's a bit too early to judge the impact of renewed dredging on the Levels Dennis? I know storm Angus has heaped misery on many communities in the SW, but it was nowhere near as wet or as sustained as its big brother Desmond was it?

      1. Joe,of course not but as birders could always use the roads and Taunton cricket ground seriously flooded then for certain the dredging is working.

  12. Fantastic news... probably the best thing that the SNP have ever done for the environment.

    I am not too worried about farmers concerns, they need to learn to farm with nature, with the climate and with the society who pays their wages.
    Riverside fields in the Tay catchment are actually flood plains. Farmers over the years have built levies to put their fields at advantage at the expense of the population that lives down stream. No flood impact analysis, no EIA, just do it and dont worry about the consequences. Now the farmers are complaining about the flooding that should naturally happen.... which only disbenefits them because they are growing crops in fields where natural flooding should occur. Ironically the flooding wouldn't be as bad if they all allowed their fields to flood. All they have to do is grow crops which are sustainable.

  13. Dear Circus Maxi, whatever

    I love your misplaced indignation! Could you possiblely suggest how a farmer could farm without nature please since farming is a natural process ? It all gets so miserably predictable with these issues; rare species turns up (in this case missing for hundreds of years I gather) preferably a cute and cuddly one not some snake or insect hopefully. Action group is formed along with some sort of narrative about how natural it is how how it's good for whatever. Farmer gets rightly targeted for daring to suggest that he or she wasn't really expecting sheep to get eaten by eagle or fields flooded by beavers since they weren't really in the business plan (you know that thing where people have jobs and stuff) and gets royally shafted by the "horrible greedy farmer killing everything" lobby....and so it goes on and one and on. Very constructive all round really.

    1. Julian - thank you.

      Or...conservationists spend years researching the practicalities and impacts of reintroducing part of our native fauna that was wiped out by landowners years ago and then get permission to reintroduce them under a carefully controlled project. Farmers, preferably a cute and cuddly poor one, say that nobody asked them and their livings will be immediately ruined if this species is allowed to establish a toehold in the countryside. They say publicly that they want the ability to kill off any inconvenient individuals in their neighbourhood and hint that if they aren't allowed to do this under the law then it will happen anyway because they are real country people and they understand these things better than the office-bound townies whose idea this is. ..and so it goes on and on and on. Very constructive all round really.

  14. The emphasis there should be on the "years researching the practicalities and impacts of reintroducing part of our native fauna" which will surely have included a considerable effort to identify potential adverse impacts on land-users and work out practicable ways of addressing these in a fair and reasonable manner.
    Farming differs from grouse shooting in that it is not carried out for amusement but is the source of the livelihood of hard-working people (often carrying substantial debt with the banks) and it is not reasonable to expect such people to simply swallow financial losses without demur. If conservation is to have an impact beyond the limits of nature reserves it is essential that the goodwill of land-owners, farmers and other 'custodians of the countryside' is obtained and maintained and it is unrealistic to say that we "...not too worried about farmers' concerns" as Circus Maxima did.
    Of course, the NFU has a lamentable track record of denying that there is any problem with wildlife in the countryside that can be attributed to farming and a reflexive tendency to try and kick every proposal for reducing the impacts of farming into touch as quickly as possible. That attitude has to be vigorously contested. I believe, though, that we will not be successful in that if we are equally knee-jerky in the opposite direction. There is a tendency for some commenters to speak as if farmers have no legitimate concerns and should accept whatever changes we wish to impose on them, whatever the impact on their income and it seems to me that such an approach will simply reinforce barriers rather than break them down.


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