SCOTGOV has pledged to 'actively support' the expansion of the country's beaver population via translocation – trapping beavers in areas where their waterway interventions are causing problems and moving them to areas where it is deemed they will not.

This new policy contrasts the previous position that lethal control was the primary option to control the species' impacts on farmland, and translocation out of home areas was not permitted. ScotGov stated that the change delivers a commitment made in its cooperation agreement with the Scottish Green Party.

Read more: New beavers site set for Scotland

NFU Scotland has expressed its disappointment at the change, saying it could undermine farmers’ ability to produce healthy, sustainable food and preserve historical features such as floodbanks.

Announcing the new policy, Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater said: “Restoring this lost species is important in its own right, but beavers will also contribute to restoring Scotland’s natural environment as they create wetland habitats that support a range of species, and their dams can also help filter sediment from watercourses and mitigate flooding.

“ScotGov recognises that through their modification of the environment, in some places beavers can produce negative impacts on some species, on agricultural land, forestry and on infrastructure. Since they were made a protected species in 2019, we have gained sufficient experience in managing beavers in Scotland to allow us to confidently support proactive steps to expand their population. We will continue to provide support and advice to land managers to mitigate any negative impacts, and the additional option of trapping and translocation will further enhance this package of support.”

NatureScot’s Chief Executive, Francesca Osowska, said: “This is a significant step to restore Scotland’s biodiversity and respond to the climate emergency. Up to now, our ability to move, or translocate, beavers to different areas across Scotland has been limited to moving animals within their current range where populations are already established. Being able to move beavers out of their current range gives us a much wider scope.

“The change is backed by our evidence gathered over 26 years on suitable habitat for beavers throughout the country, as well as evidence on how beavers form ponds and wetlands where other species thrive, slow down water flows and improve water quality.”

Director of Conservation at Scottish Wildlife Trust, Sarah Robinson, said: “We strongly welcome the Scottish Government’s support for expanding the current range of the species into new areas of Scotland. There are more than 100,000 hectares of suitable woodland habitat around the country. Much of this habitat is in areas where there is a low risk of conflict with agriculture and other land uses.”

But NFUS president Martin Kennedy was less enthusiastic: “NFUS believes in the natural expansion of the growing beaver population in Scotland, rather than the need for translocation.

“The NatureScot survey results from earlier this year showed a significant and accelerating increase in beaver numbers and territories (from 114 territories in 2017 to 251 territories in 2020)," noted Mr Kennedy. "These results provide unequivocal evidence of beavers in Scotland being a conservation and reintroduction success story, without the need for translocation, within a management framework that operated in the interests of beavers and wider biodiversity, whilst limiting the damage to valuable agricultural land.

“In light of this announcement, Scottish Government must ensure that a fully funded standalone mitigation scheme can be accessed by all who wish to prevent future beaver damage on their land, alongside a fully funded compensation scheme for those who have been adversely affected.”