By Alan McDonnell, Conservation Manager at rewilding charity Trees for Life

AFTER MONTHS of discussion, legal argument and deliberation, the verdict on the judicial review that we at Trees for Life raised on beaver management has come back from the Court of Session. While we understand that the verdict is not clear cut for everyone, this is an opportunity to look to the future and create an approach to beaver management in Scotland that allows farmers and beavers to prosper in tandem – and based on the fact that there is far more to unite farming and conservation interests than divides them.

We can all agree on the fundamental importance of farming to everyone as the provider of food and a source of rural employment. Farmers are key players in environmental sustainability and have been proactive in setting out how farming can make some of the most significant contributions to the twinned climate and nature emergencies we all face. Any beaver management system should recognise and seek to support these fundamental points.

The value of farming should be even more in our sights at a time when costs are escalating alarmingly and the economic outlook is disconcertingly unclear. As I wrote in these pages last January, for farmers on Tayside, losing crops and riverbank stability to beaver impacts is yet another problem not of their making and beyond their control.

We can also agree that a beaver management system needs to reflect the shared value and importance placed on nature and wildlife by everyone involved. It’s not fair for farmers who suffer beaver damage to be perceived as somehow anti-wildlife or unsympathetic to the keystone role beavers can play in enabling other species to flourish and our ecosystems to function in a healthy way. By the same token, conservationists should not be seen as anti-farmer. In fact – for ourselves and many others – a system which fails to work for farmers will have also failed beavers and other wildlife.

We need an approach that helps farm businesses to flourish – in part because of beavers rather than in spite of them. And we need a solution that is sustainable for the long-term. It is clear that the current beaver management system, characterised by a shortage of resources and high levels of lethal control, fails to achieve this. So what might better look like?

Well, we need to reduce the size of the problem by moving to a situation where beaver impacts occur less often. Beavers want to spend as little time as possible away from water – so creating habitat strips beside watercourses gives them space where they can live, which dramatically reduces impacts on farmland. Streamside habitats provide a raft of other major benefits like carbon sequestration, natural flood reduction and better water quality.

Trees for Life believes this should be delivered in a way that leaves farms better off financially. The solutions for reducing the frequency of beaver impacts on farmland mean taking some land out of production – and so we are arguing for an increase in support for farmers to reflect the financial implications and to provide a reliable, meaningful source of farm income, in return for the value of the benefits it would deliver for society. These benefits, compared to the costs of doing nothing, will undoubtedly provide value for money in supporting farming and our environment.

Having taken steps to reduce impacts, we then need an effective hierarchy of options to deal with any residual problems caused by beavers on productive land. This should include the proven option of relocating beavers to other parts of Scotland where the potential for serious impacts on farming is low, before resorting to lethal control.

Relocating beavers to suitable habitats where the animals are welcome has been a central plank of beaver management in other parts of Europe, and is currently being proposed by DEFRA for use in England. Trees for Life has repeatedly stressed that we are aware that live trapping may not always be effective or practical – and we therefore support the availability of lethal control as a genuine last resort for dealing with beaver problems.

Of course, we need to identify areas to which beavers can be relocated. We know the habitat is there because NatureScot has identified over 105,000 hectares of land across Scotland that would be suitable for beavers. The other essential step is public consultation involving genuine conversations with local people about the pros and cons of bringing beavers to new areas.

Beyond this, adequate resources for managing the impacts of beavers on any new area must be in place, with a robust, practical plan for implementing that management.

Whilst there are many places in Scotland that beavers could return to right away, there must be a dialogue where everyone’s viewpoints are listened to, with respect. If a local community does not want beavers, we must look elsewhere. At Argaty Red Kites near Doune, a family farm recently completed such a listening process and has just received the first licence in Scotland to move beavers from Tayside to a new area on the edge of the current range.

These principles for managing beavers have been proven in practice in very comparable situations elsewhere. We know we have the means to achieve a better approach that will benefit farmers, while helping to reverse the steep declines in nature that we are all facing and to tackle climate breakdown. It’s also clear that all stakeholders have plenty of motivation to get to such a point. What is now key for securing such progress is for the Scottish Government to give NatureScot the freedom it needs to act.