Press release – Trees for Life

Trees for Life launches court challenge to Scottish Government’s ‘licence to kill’ beaver policy

Trees for Life is to challenge the Scottish Government’s nature agency NatureScot in court over its failure to make the killing of Scotland’s wild beavers a genuine last resort when the species needs to be managed.

The Highlands-based rewilding charity has launched a £40,000 crowdfunding appeal to cover the costs of a judicial review aiming to protect the endangered species.

Trees for Life says that winning the legal challenge would help secure a better future for beavers, which can be key allies in tackling the nature and climate emergencies.

This is a matter of law, not of opinion. There’s a strong legal case that NatureScot is breaking the law by failing to make killing of beavers a last resort when they have unwanted impacts on agricultural land,” said Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s Chief Executive.

It’s clear from our correspondence with NatureScot that it is unwilling to change approach and properly consider moving beavers as an alternative to killing. So we’re having to launch a judicial review to secure the future of Scotland’s habitat-creating, biodiversity-boosting, flood-preventing beavers, and prevent more needless loss of life.

Although the Scottish Government declared beavers a legally protected species in May 2019, in the following months its nature agency NatureScot authorised the killing of 87 wild beavers – a fifth of the Scottish population. Trees for Life considers that NatureScot is failing in its duty to protect beavers and is breaking the law by issuing lethal control licenses without exploring all other options.

Beavers are superb ecosystem architects, with their dams creating nature-rich wetlands, but sometimes have unwanted local impacts on agricultural land which need managing. Where this happens, laws governing protected species require any intervention to have the least possible impact on their conservation.

NatureScot has identified over 100,000 hectares of suitable habitat for beavers. Yet the Scottish Government says beavers cannot be relocated to new areas within Scotland – significantly limiting the options for Tayside farmers whose crops are damaged by beavers.

European Beaver. Photo: Scotlandbigpicture

The Scottish Government’s policy is making a mockery of beavers’ protected species status. By respecting the law and allowing relocation of beavers to suitable areas of Scotland, the Government could achieve a big nature-friendly, climate-friendly, farmer-friendly win,” said Alan McDonnell, Trees for Life’s Conservation Manager.

It would simultaneously prevent damage to farmers’ fields, ensure farmers are less often put in the unpleasant position of having to shoot beavers, allow more areas to benefit from beavers’ positive impacts on ecosystems, and help secure the future of a much-loved species which most people want to see properly protected.

A judicial review ruling in Trees for Life’s favour will ensure lethal control is a genuine last resort. Conservation charities and others will be able to identify – with proper community engagement – suitable sites around Scotland to which beavers could be moved and be safe and welcome.

There are several options available to NatureScot where it sees a need to mitigate beavers’ impacts on farming – but instead of adopting these, it has chosen killing beavers as its go-to solution. This approach is beyond their authority and ultimately illegal,” said lawyer Adam Eagle, Chief Executive Officer of The Lifescape Project, a legally specialist rewilding charity spearheading the litigation alongside Trees for Life.

Trees for Life is dedicated to rewilding the Scottish Highlands. For more details on the charity’s Protect Beavers In Scotland crowdfunding appeal, see treesforlife.org.uk.

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14 Replies to “Press release – Trees for Life”

  1. The absolute, churlish, refusal to consider relocation of beaver to other waterways is just a sign of how craven the current powers that be are towards the angling and farming lobby. I hope this challenge succeeds, but many judges like a bit of fishing in their spare time so...

    Oh, and as an aside, regarding the River Lugg that was talked about on here the other day; fucking called it! The farmer in question is blaming his destruction on the need for dredging and flood prevention after he was told to fence off livestock from the banks and remove a fallen tree.

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  2. I've contributed to this. The challenge should not be needed but, given that it is, this is exactly what JR is for and I wish it all the best. It's not just about beavers it's about what kind of relationship we want with nature, on which NatureScot seem to be out of kilter with the Scottish public. The direct link to the crowdfunder is here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/protect-beavers-in-scotland

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  3. This is excellent news. Not before time. We had the Scottish Government introducing legislation "protecting" the beaver but at the same time training marksmen to cull the beavers so that when protection was enacted, legal culling could take place. A travesty.
    One argument was that it was too difficult to trap beavers so they had to be shot. Next thing is they are being translocated to captive projects elsewhere in the UK.
    There is plenty of suitable habitat in Scotland where "problem" beavers could be translocated with benefits to flood mitigation and wildlife tourism.
    As far as I am aware no other European country culled any beavers within ten years of their introduction.

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    1. I live in Falkirk and doubt there is much land here if any that was officially registered as being suitable for beaver, but a fairly big chunk of the 87 beavers officially culled could have found a home even here and nearby - Carron Dams SSSI, Linlithgow Loch, the wetlands adjoining Abbotshaugh Community Woodlands etc. Our river Carron has flooded badly enough to have smashed one of its footbridges and undermined the footpath running alongside. A few beavers upstream certainly wouldn't make things worse and occasional deliveries of brash from tree surgery operations and carrots, spuds, broccoli and the other fruit and veg that the supermarkets could donate instead of sending to the composter would help them in building their dams, the energy and material to do so.

      Fingers crossed there might be (stress might be) a Scotgov petition coming out soon asking that one of the requirements in obtaining a licence for grouse moors is that they have taken full measures to reduce flood levels downstream - not just blocking drainage and restricting muirburn, but also targeted tree planting, the accumulation of woody material in watercourses to form leaky dams and, where appropriate the eventual return of the beaver with even better dams. These actions would also reduce the general flammability of the moors (higher water table) plus create firebreaks thereby taking pressure off the emergency services via less flood and fire.

      An effective national flood prevention strategy will have to look at this across all the uplands, but a licensing process for grouse moors is a bloody good place to start. The petition is currently under review by the petitions team so should know soon if it's deemed suitable. It boils down to if grouse moors don't incorporate full flood reduction measures then keeping homes dry is compromised by shooting grouse for fun. Some politicians might be alright with that, I doubt the public would be.

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      1. If you've not already looked Les, the SNH Commissioned report 875 has maps of potential and core potential beaver woodland which shows a fair bit of suitable woodland around Falkirk. Animals in Clacks looking to be doing okay too.

        https://www.nature.scot/naturescot-commissioned-report-875-geospatial-analysis-potential-eurasian-beaver-castor-fiber

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        1. That's brilliant thanks! I really should have looked for this a while ago. I heard tales of a Clacks beaver way back in 2011 and then latterly some vague talk of a population. Thanks for confirming there's a group there. That means incredibly there's not one, but two populations of beavers in far less than a day's walk from my flat. It's mind boggling how fast this has happened, barely seems like last week that there was a public revelation about 120 to 150 beavers living wild on the Tay. The quicker satellite populations away from there get established and grow all the better. Cheers again.

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  4. Who the hell do Nature Scot think they are? Just a group of Luddites or Philistines. The poor old beaver was once exterminated from the U.K. and now on its return it is still being shot to pieces. What rotten people they are similar to those down south with the badger with the philosophy of, if nature gets in the way kill it, even if there are totally practical living alternatives available namely in the case of beavers, relocation and in the case of badgers vaccination.
    These people are suppose to protect our wildlife not kill it, They really are just a bunch of Luddites and Philistines.

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    1. "If nature gets in the way, kill it" - yes, we are a disgraceful species.

      Alister, above, you are quite correct to write 'protect' sic.
      Legal 'protection' seems to mean nothing - why bother going to the trouble and expense of re-introducing species and of categorising them as 'protected'?

      There will always be a significant sector of the public who, for their own interests, wish to be rid of them, and unfortunately these people have friends in an unethical government.

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      1. The agricultural lobby seems to have the ear of Scottish government.
        There are non-lethal methods of removing "problem" beavers and these should be used. There are huge areas of unoccupied and suitable habitat in Scotland. Every beaver is valuable.

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  5. There's a more rounded policy altogether needed from the Scottish Government on beaver expansion in Scotland, including reinforcement of the current population with animals with a different genetic background to reduce the increasing risk of inbreeding from a current narrow base.
    So at some point, (quite soon?) new animals will need to be added to the Tayside population. That's going to look strange, while significant culling is going on.
    Having the current culling policy reviewed in court would be an excellent start.

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    1. Spot on! Let's imagine that Scotgov magically does a 180 degree turnabout loves every single beaver and realises building up the population ASAP as well as ecorestoration of areas currently without trees for them is essentially an emergency action to reduce the severity of the very next inevitable flood. In that case every single animal is literally incredibly valuable as founder stock for a population that will eventually prevent tens of millions of pounds of flood damage over relatively short periods of time. It will be decades for the beaver population to reach that point, about fifty years in many countries. No need to kill a single beaver in all that time, not one, all can and should be translocated with tender care.

      In fact if you extrapolate from this position we should actually be doing our best to secure 'surplus' beavers from all the places in Europe such as the Netherlands, Bavaria and Estonia where they are numerous and legitimately culled as well. Instead we'd import, quarantine and release them here to bring reaching the optimum flood prevention population date forward as much as possible to reduce gigantic financial costs and the intense human miserly caused by losing your home to rising water. Having beavers culled anywhere in Europe is insanely wasteful when they could be brought here.

      But no, that's not the worst of it our own beavers in a still very limited and fragile population are being killed, 87 legally last year, god knows how many illegally. This should be seen as a humanitarian issue for people in Perth, Gloucester and Carlisle and so many other places that have suffered terribly from flooding and are still at risk from it - a partial remedy is being slaughtered not fostered. Improving genetic diversity is part of the desperate need to bring in as many beavers from Europe as we can, preferably starting today.

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  6. £40,000 to cover costs of a judicial review is also going to cost the taxpayers who fund NatureScot. the winners are the fat cat lawyers. could I suggest the best way going forward would be to use the £40,000 to get volunteers trained + equipment to catch the beavers in places they are unwelcome and relocate them to where they are welcome. then there would never be any reason to shoot/kill them. the "friends of beavers " can build up a great reputation so future crowd funding should be easy.
    clearly the winners would be the beavers and no costs to the taxpayers. a win win.

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    1. It's a very good idea Donald but it's ScotGov who are blocking this. Scottish Wild Beaver Group (https://www.scottishwildbeavers.org.uk/) and others have been advocating exactly this - and do what we can as volunteers with no funding - helping individual land managers with various forms of mitigation when requested. But instead ScotGov and Nature Scot (SNH) spent money on training over 200 people to shoot beavers under licence and there is still only one registered professional trapper allowed to trap beavers and organise translocation to England or Wales. ScotGov will not allow translocation in Scotland 'outside current range' - even where there are land managers keen to have beavers for all the benefits they bring in the right places. Hence the need for legal challenge to these govt. decisions because advocacy, lobbying, information and offers of expert and voluntary help and mitigation have been ignored in favour of placating landowning bodies by issuing licences and killing "problem" beavers.

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