THE LETHAL control of beavers is a necessary last resort in areas where damage is being caused to prime agricultural land and other mitigation efforts have proven ineffective.

Confirming this, Scottish Natural Heritage has released a new report revealing its beaver licensing statistics – in the eight months following the species being given formal protection on May 1, 2019, the agency issued 45 licences which permitted either lethal control or dam removal.

Licenses were granted when there was no other effective solution to prevent serious agricultural damage. Five of the licences permitted dam removal or manipulation only. All licences were issued for the purpose of preventing serious damage to agriculture and all but one of these (97.5%) were issued on land classified by Scottish Government as prime agricultural land, which makes up 13% of Scotland’s land cover. Evidence of serious damage included waterlogged fields and crops, as well as erosion on riverbanks and embankments.

Under these licences, 15 beavers were trapped and moved to either Knapdale or a trial reintroduction project and fenced sites in England, 83 beaver dams were removed, and 87 beavers were shot by trained and accredited controllers.

“It’s always been clear to both us and our partners that lethal control of beavers will sometimes be necessary under licence as a last resort when other mitigation is unlikely to be effective,” said SNH director of sustainable growth, Robbie Kernahan. “Some of the well documented and most serious issues have occurred on the most productive areas of agricultural land in Scotland. Due to their generally being well-drained, low-lying and flat, these areas are often vulnerable to beaver burrowing and dam building,” he explained.

SNH has begun trialling water-gates this year, which aim to exclude beavers from areas of land where conflicts are arising or likely, as well as trialling other techniques, such as automated early-warning systems to alert people to beaver impacts, allowing rapid intervention before problems occur. Although water gates are only likely to be successful in certain situations, a number of potential water gate sites have been identified which, if successful, have the potential to fully resolve problems on 12 current licences where lethal control is permitted and partially resolve issues on a further six licences.

“As we work with farmers to trial new and innovative measures for reducing the impacts of beavers on this type of ground, we hope to see less need for control measures in the coming years,” Mr Kernahan continued. “We also expect to see the beaver population expanding away from high conflict areas and into suitable habitat where beavers can thrive and bring the positive benefits we want to see.”

Welcoming the report, NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said: “In its first year of operation, the accreditation, management and licensing framework for managing proving effective and fit for purpose.

“It has allowed the management of beavers in those areas of productive farmland where the species has had a clear impact," he continued. "The report notes that more than 90% of beaver territories have been unaffected by the licensing system.

“The number of beavers and their range continues to expand and it remains vitally important that, where there is conflict, the impact on farmland of beavers in new and existing catchments can continue to be managed through this framework.

“While that may involve lethal control, we note from the report that three-quarters of licence holders have proactively engaged with the role of trapping. NFUS is encouraged to see that where mitigation was proven to have worked, there was no longer a need for licensing." he concluded.