Scotland's environmental organisations back the beaver

Beavers © Steven Gardner 

Ramblers Scotland has joined a coalition of over 20 environmental NGOs who have written to Dr Aileen McLeod, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, calling for the Eurasian beaver to be fully reintroduced and recognised by the Scottish Government as a resident, native species in Scotland. The group also welcomed the recent publication of the Scottish Natural Heritage Report on the future of beavers in Scotland.

In addition, the collective calls for the building on the current wild populations in Mid Argyll and Tayside, and permission for further licensed releases across other appropriate areas of Scotland to viably restore this once widespread, native keystone species.

The conservation coalition is made up of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group, Borders Forest Trust, Buglife, Friends of the Earth Scotland, Froglife, Heart of Argyll Tourism Alliance, Highland Foundation for Wildlife, John Muir Trust, National Trust for Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, Ramblers Scotland, Reforesting Scotland, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Scottish Badgers, Scottish Raptor Study Group, Scottish Wild Beaver Group, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Trees for Life, Woodland Trust and WWF Scotland.

Lindsay Mackinlay, Nature Conservation Adviser, National Trust for Scotland, said:
“Wild beavers used to live in Scotland not that long ago. Indeed, we have individual trees growing by our sides now that were present when the last beavers lived in our rivers. The National Trust for Scotland believe there is a very strong case for seeing the return of free-living beavers to Scotland as soon as possible. This decision has not been made hastily but has been reached after weighing up the scientific evidence and experiences from other countries.

Alan Carter, Director of Reforesting Scotland, said:
"In river catchments managed by beavers, fish stocks are higher, biodiversity is increased, flood peaks are reduced and pollution is filtered out. These are things that society spends millions on, but beavers do them for free. They can have negative impacts too, but experience from places as diverse as the Netherlands and the USA shows that these can be managed effectively. On top of this cost-benefit approach, we have a responsibility to bring back to Scotland a species that was made extinct purely through human actions in the past."

The group, who combined represent over a quarter of a million members, concur that a positive outcome for beavers will help ensure that Scotland continues to position itself at the forefront of biodiversity conservation in an international context. The collective see beavers as a missing element in Scottish biodiversity, believing there is both an ecological and moral imperative to restore this keystone species to benefit Scotland’s depleted freshwater ecosystems, as the reasons for their loss are no longer present. The group also believe that the majority of Scotland’s people are ready and willing to live alongside beavers once again and that this strengthens Scotland’s reputation as a modern society that truly values its environment.

The Scottish environmental NGOs state that there is sufficient, suitable habitat currently in Scotland to support a thriving and self-sustaining beaver population. Existing scientific modelling work and experiences from other similar European countries show that beaver populations can flourish in a wide range of freshwater habitats and evidence and research from other European countries shows that the restoration of beaver populations would have multiple benefits. Beavers would offer a valuable means of restoring freshwater habitats by improving natural processes and function, and increasing the diversity and robustness of ecosystems in the face of threats such as climate change, habitat fragmentation and diffuse pollution from surrounding land uses.

The collective agree that, as a keystone species in wetland and freshwater ecosystems, the beaver will provide tangible and significant ecological benefits for a wide range of other species through the habitats and ecological niches they create, allowing other species to flourish. Beaver activity will have a net positive environmental and socio-economic effect on Scotland’s human population and prosperity by providing multiple public benefits such as ecosystem services, including improved water quality, reduced downstream flooding, and increased eco-tourism.

Several public consultations have shown that the majority of people in Scotland support the reintroduction of the beaver and as such this flagship species mobilises support for wider biodiversity action, including ecosystem-scale restoration.

This high level of public support was a key feature of the successful Scottish Beaver Trial, which finished last year. During the five year project an incredible 2,950,778 people were engaged with the Trial and interest was attracted from over 150 countries. The project engaged local people and businesses through events, talks and workshops, young people through school visits right across Scotland and visitors through the official website, social media and TV and press coverage. Awards achieved include winner of the Lonely Planet ‘Wildlife Comeback Award’ in 2011, runner up and highly commended in the RSPB Nature of Scotland ‘Innovation Award’ and winner of BBC Countryfile Magazine Award for ‘Best Conservation Project’ in 2013. Led by science, this was the largest field trial of its kind anywhere in Europe and was made up of a small field team backed by 60 volunteers and 13 independent monitoring partners, contributing 11,817 hours of fieldwork.

About the Trial

  • The Scottish Beaver Trial is a partnership led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. It is hosted at Knapdale by Forestry Commission Scotland. It is the first licensed reintroduction of a mammal to the UK and brought the beaver back to Scotland after a 400 year absence. The five-year scientific monitoring period of the trial, overseen by Scottish Natural Heritage, came to an end last year. Scottish Ministers will decide later this year on allowing beavers to remain in Scotland and if wider reintroductions will take place, after considering the results of the Scottish Beaver Trial, findings from Tayside Beaver Study Group and considerations of European experiences.
  • Throughout the Trial, an independent scientific monitoring programme has been coordinated by Scottish Natural Heritage to assess the effect beavers have on the local environment.
  • The five-year Trial commenced in May 2009, when the beavers first arrived in Knapdale. Beyond its conclusion in May this year, there will be a period for reporting where the impact of the beavers' activities on the environment and economy will be assessed.
  • The beaver families participating in the Trial were all caught in the Telemark region of Norway and transported to quarantine facilities in Devon and Scotland. They all completed a statutory quarantine period before being released in the Trial site.
  • The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) is a registered charity, charity no SC004064. RZSS was founded by visionary lawyer Thomas Gillespie. The Society was set up in 1909 ‘to promote, facilitate and encourage the study of zoology and kindred subjects and to foster and develop amongst the people an interest in and knowledge of animal life’.
  • The Scottish Wildlife Trust is the largest voluntary body working for all the wildlife of Scotland, representing over 37,000 members who care for wildlife and the environment. It seeks to raise public awareness of threatened habitats and species and manages over 120 reserves Scotland-wide. The Scottish Wildlife Trust receives financial assistance and support from a range of organisations, funders and individuals including Scottish Natural Heritage and Players of People’s Postcode Lottery.