NatureScot has approved a licence application from the Cairngorms National Park Authority to release up to six beaver families at agreed sites in the upper River Spey catchment.

The decision will help increase the current range of beavers in Scotland, as set out as a priority in Scotland's Beaver Strategy 2022-2045.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority has welcomed the announcement, with the first three sites receiving beavers in the coming weeks and months.

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The approval marks the fifth catchment to which beavers have either been officially granted permission to remain or have been released.

The Park Authority, working with a range of partners and landowners, submitted the licence application in October, following consultation with the agricultural community, fishing interests, the public, and other key stakeholders.

NatureScot has assessed the catchment as highly favourable for beavers, with a low risk of beaver / human conflict. An environmental report highlights parts of the River Spey catchment have long been identified as one of the most suitable locations for beaver releases.

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NatureScot head of wildlife management, Donald Fraser, said: “This decision marks a significant milestone for beaver restoration in Scotland, bringing this keystone species back to one of our biggest river catchments with huge potential for beavers to contribute to habitat restoration and biodiversity enhancement in the Cairngorms National Park.

"We also appreciate and understand both the support and legitimate concerns articulated by farmers and crofters through the consultation process. We are satisfied that the monitoring and mitigation plans set out by the Cairngorms National Park Authority, alongside our existing Beaver Mitigation Scheme, will sufficiently address any potential conflicts that may arise.”

The licence permits the release of up to six beaver families (pairs with dependent young) at the agreed sites in the first year. It also allows for future additional releases at other sites over the next five years up to a total of 15 beaver families. Any additional releases/sites would be subject to approval by the NatureScot licensing team.

The beavers will be trapped and taken under licence from areas where they are having a negative impact on Prime Agricultural Land and where mitigation measures have not been successful or are not possible. The beavers will undergo appropriate health screening before being released.

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Chief executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Grant Moir, added: “This is a milestone moment and we’re grateful to over 500 people who took part in our public consultation. As an organisation, we are mindful that whilst the majority of respondents were supportive there remain some concerns about the impacts from beavers on some farms in the area. We have listened carefully to those concerns and adjusted our approach to provide further reassurance to the farming community, with that dialogue continuing. We have effective mitigation measures in place with the work being led by the Park Authority Beaver Officer, who can react quickly to minimise any negative impacts.

“Beavers will provide many positive benefits for the area both environmentally and economically but as the applicant we need to work to maximise the benefits whilst managing any impacts.”

Once healthy pairs and families are available for translocation, they will be brought to the Cairngorms National Park and released in locations that have been identified as highly suitable and where the local landowner has been keen to welcome them. The sites chosen have also been carefully considered for their suitability.