CONSERVATIONISTS have published a report stating that reintroduced beavers have "adapted well" to life in Scotland - but NFU Scotland has reiterated its opposition to any plan to widen the reintroduction.

Scottish Natural Heritage published three reports on behalf of the Tayside Beaver Study Group which look at the estimated 150 beavers living in the River Tay and Earn catchments, stating that they are well adapted to living in Scotland, and free of disease of concern to humans, domestic animals and other wildlife.

Study group chairman David Bale, who is SNH's area manager for Tayside and Grampian, said the findings were "very useful".

"The genetic tests tell us that they would be suitable for permanent reintroduction to Scotland, because they are Eurasian rather than North American beavers," confirmed Mr Bale."They are also varied enough genetically to make a reasonable first step towards a full reintroduction if that was the decision of the Scottish Government.

"Our work documenting the impacts of beavers on land management interests has shown that in many situations, beavers are likely to cause few concerns," he added. "But if they were to be permanently reintroduced, efficient, effective and affordable ways of managing and reducing potentially significant impacts on intensively farmed land and other interests would have to be found."

NFU Scotland has previously stated its opposition to permanent re-introduction of beavers on both practical and financial grounds, particularly that it is "deeply sceptical" that beavers can be excluded from areas of highly productive farmland that are heavily reliant on complex drainage systems and flood banks.

The union is concerned that the private time and cost involved in removing dams and pipe blockages and repairing flood defences is already significant and will only increase if the population is afforded protection and thereafter grows.

NFUS deputy director of policy Andrew Bauer said: "We believe that already stretched SNH species management budgets cannot cope with the high costs of managing what many call 'nature's engineer' and that beaver reintroduction would divert resources and attention away from helping indigenous species, such as the wildcat and capercaillie that are under threat.

"The union calls on environment minister Dr McLeod to not exacerbate the existing issues by giving beavers protected status," said Mr Bauer. "The three year funding cycles for the sea eagle and geese schemes are evidence that any compensation for beaver impacts would be unlikely to be secure over the long-term,"

"A reintroduction would legitimise the illegal release of beavers in Tayside, and therefore incentivise others to take similar action to reintroduce species 'via the back door'.

"We have a number of members who are affected by the illegal reintroduction, with one member whose flood bank collapsed due to burrowing of beavers; and another who has had to remove 35 dams from his farm; just a few instances where beavers are already causing problems for farmers."

A spokesman for Scottish Land and Estates said: "We have been an active member of the Tayside Beaver Study Group and are keen that as much information as possible is available to the government ahead of the decision on the future of the beaver in Scotland.

"We are not opposed to beaver ever being reintroduced to Scotland; we simply want to ensure that any reintroduction, whatever the species, is only progressed after a robust assessment and justification process which ensures a competent decision in which impacts on land management have been fully acknowledged and accommodated."