A LEGAL challenge to the current system of beaver management – and its licensed culling option – has failed to derail the policy, with the Court of Session allowing it to continue with only one caveat.

Conservation charity Trees For Life had pushed for a judicial review in the Court of Session, helped along by crowdfunding which raised over £60,000 to cover its costs. The charity argued that beavers causing problems for farmers and land managers should only be shot as a 'genuine' last resort - and suggested that NatureScot was not making enough use of the non-lethal option of moving beavers to other parts of Scotland.

Read more: Beavers boom with little bother

However, the court ruling erred on the side of practicality, and the only concession to the Trees For Life case was that NatureScot now be obliged to detail its reasons for both current and future lethal control licences.

NatureScot’s Director of Sustainable Growth, Robbie Kernahan, commented: “We welcome the Court’s decision which, for the most part, vindicates our licensing approach. We have been successful on all points of law except that we should have issued written reasons with each licence to explain why it had been granted. We will be reviewing this carefully over the coming days to ensure the finding of the Court is reflected in our licensing approach.

"Of the five complaints under consideration by the Court, four were rejected entirely. The Court found only one complaint to be well founded – not issuing written reasons with licenses – on what amounts to a technical point of law," noted Mr Kernahan. "Most importantly, the criticism of our underlying licensing decisions was entirely rejected by the court and this does not affect the legality of any acts carried out under the affected licences.

Read more: Beaver management proving fit for purpose

“We have been working with partners for 25 years to bring back beavers to Scotland because of the many benefits they bring to both people and nature, particularly in this crucial time of climate emergency," he added. "We will continue to listen to and respond to all those involved, through the Scottish Beaver Forum and other avenues, to make licences fair and proportionate.

"But in certain circumstances, beavers can cause problems. In those specific situations where beavers pose a risk of serious damage to farmland or where they occasionally cause a public health and safety concern, we issue species control licences accordingly.”

NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy said: “We welcome the recognition by the courts that, for the most part, the beaver management framework and licencing system, as established and developed by Scottish Government, NatureScot, land managers and wildlife organisations is appropriate and proportionate.

Read more: Time for proper beaver 'management'

“In our opinion, the framework remains a positive platform to review, balance and resolve conflicts between the growing population of beavers and land management in a pragmatic and sensible way," said Mr Kennedy.

“To those impacted by beavers on their land, the licence system has been a valuable way of protecting their farm from economic and environmental damage, with lethal control remaining a last resort."

Commenting on the outcome, the chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, Sarah-Jane Laing, said: “We are pleased that the Court of Session has chosen to uphold the existing beaver management framework as a sound system through which farmers and land managers deal with negative impacts from beavers such as the destruction of trees and habitat.

"The framework is the best way forward to balance conflicts between conservation and land management and those who require licences can look forward to them being granted in appropriate circumstances in future.

“We continue to hold the view that lethal control should only be used as a last resort, and greater resources from government and other organisations will allow intervention to occur earlier where required.”

Trees For Life, however, described the outcome as a success for its campaign. Its conservation manager, Alan McDonnell, said: "The Scottish Government must take this ruling seriously, and it means that from here on in there can be no more rubber-stamping of licensed killing of beavers.

“This is an important victory for accountability and transparency, which will benefit everyone including conservationists and farmers.”

Read more: Problem beavers should be relocated, not shot

Now that beavers cannot be killed under license without a full explanation of the reasons, Mr McDonnell said that NatureScot needed to rethink its approach to beaver management, and called for beavers to be relocated to other areas of Scotland, instead of being shot.

“By moving rather than shooting beavers, we can help them get to work boosting biodiversity, tackling climate breakdown and creating wildlife tourism opportunities,’ said Mr McDonnell.

“The Scottish Government has been blocking relocation of beavers to areas of Scotland where they belong but are missing, but today’s ruling creates hope that this will change so that farmers will no longer be put in a position where they have no choice but to shoot much-loved animals.”