Dear Andrew

I am writing to you now, because I think it is important that I set out how the Scottish Government intends to manage the reintroduction of beavers to Scotland.

I am aware that the circumstances surrounding the appearance of beavers in the Tay catchment were very far from satisfactory. This was, at worst, a result of unlawful releases or at best, a culpable failure by keepers of the animals to prevent their escape. We have both been left to deal with a situation that was not of our own making or choosing. While there are many biodiversity benefits that beavers will bring to Scotland, we would not ever have chosen to begin a reintroduction by releasing beavers into some of the most productive agricultural land in Scotland.

We do, however, need to deal with the reality of the situation that confronts us. Our assessment of the legal requirements is clear. Beavers are now here to stay and we need to provide protection under the law. This was the position the Scottish Government set out in November 2016. Since then, as you know, we have been engaged in detailed discussions with the NFUS and with other land managers, as well as conservation interests, about how we can ensure that protecting beavers does not have unwanted impacts on important economic activity.

This leads me to the crucial point that I want to emphasise in this letter. While we are clear that beaver reintroduction is an important project for the enhancement of biodiversity, we are determined that this will not be at the expense of the productivity of our rural economy. We are absolutely clear about the importance of the rural economy to Scotland as a whole and we will not allow it to be compromised. I believe this is perfectly possible with a flexible and responsive licensing system that, at the same time, fully complies with legal requirements. I will be emphasising the need to maintain this approach with Scottish Natural Heritage, who will be the licensing authority.

We have discussed the licensing system and the management of beavers in considerable detail with NFUS officials and with farmers from areas such as Strathmore. We believe we have been able to accommodate nearly all the requirements sought from us. We are also committed to working with farmers and other land managers to develop mitigation measures to reduce beaver impacts and to funding that mitigation work. We will continue to work with you to develop and refine these systems, learning from experience here and elsewhere in Europe and North America on how best to manage beavers.

We are now in a position where we need to move forward with the necessary legislation. I have signed the Scottish Statutory Instrument (SSI) that will provide beavers in Scotland with European Protected Species status, and the SSI was laid in the Scottish Parliament on Friday February 22. I anticipate that the legislation will come into force on May 1, 2019. I can guarantee that any farmers experiencing or anticipating problems from beavers on prime agricultural land will be given licences to manage beavers if they are required and that these will be available in advance of protection being afforded. Licences will also be available for farmers on other land whose livelihoods are affected by beaver activity. We will also ensure that training for beaver controllers is available to all before the legislation comes into force.

In conclusion, I know this is not likely to be a welcome development for many farmers. However, I hope that you will recognise that the Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage have gone a considerable way to address the concerns that have been described and shown to us on the ground. I am confident that, as we move forward, we will refine the management and licensing system to allow us to benefit from beavers as landscape engineers and a keystone species, while at the same time ensuring that the vital business of farming is not compromised.

Yours sincerely

Roseanna Cunningham