A CONSERVATION charity is a step closer to mounting a legal challenge to the Scottish Government’s beaver policy, following a crowdfunding appeal that raised almost £60,000.

The charity, Trees for Life, working in tandem with rewilding body The Lifescape Project, has accused Scottish government quango NatureScot of breaking the law by failing to make killing of beavers a 'last resort' when the animals have unwanted impacts on agricultural land.

An online crowdfunder set out to raise at least £40,000 to cover the costs of the current judicial review of NatureScot's approach, and exceeded its target thanks to some 1500 donors, and high-profile support came from television presenter Chris Packham, whose own conservation group Wild Justice donated £5000.

“The support for our campaign to protect Scotland’s biodiversity-boosting, flood-preventing beavers has been amazing, and every donation is hugely appreciated," said Trees for Life’s chief executive Steve Micklewright. "Public opinion clearly supports a more nature-friendly, climate-friendly and farmer-friendly approach to beaver management."

The charity's legal argument is that in cases where beavers have unwanted impacts on agricultural land, the laws governing protected species require any intervention to have the least possible impact on their conservation.

Since the Scottish Government declared beavers a legally protected species in May 2019, those wanting to kill beavers or remove their dams or lodges have to obtain a licence from NatureScot. Trees For Life's problem is that 'dozens' of such licences have since been issued.

However, it does not blame farmers for wanting to take action to protect their land – but it believes that the Government should allow a mechanism whereby beavers that have settled in unsuitable territory, like Tayside's cropping heartlands, can be relocated to new areas within Scotland. The charity claims to have identified over 100,000 hectares of suitable habitat, much of it in the Scottish Highlands, that would suit this purpose.

If the judicial review rules in Trees for Life’s favour, lethal control would become a genuine last resort, while conservationists 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.

"This could also help prevent damage to farmland, and ensure farmers are less often put in the position of having to shoot popular and endangered animals," said the charity.