MSP fails in bid to prevent beavers becoming protected species

Beavers will be given legal protection in Scotland after an attempt by a Conservative MSP to prevent the move was voted down.

Beavers will now be added to list of European protected species, meaning culling can only be carried out under licence.

Licences, managed by Scottish Natural Heritage, will also be required to remove dams more than two weeks old.

John Scott MSP
John Scott argued the protected status would allow beavers to grow more rapidly (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

John Scott, Tory MSP for Ayr, told the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee that beavers were “illegally” released in the River Tay catchment area and grew from around 146 in 2012 to up to 500 by 2018.

He said they cause damage to farmland through dam building which can cause floods and affect the structure of riverbanks, causing thousands of pounds to fix.

Mr Scott, a farmer, said beaver activity could hit wild salmon stocks and raised concerns dams could affect flood mitigation schemes and cause flooding upriver – posing a flood risk to Perth.

Putting forward a motion to annul the legislation change at the committee meeting, he said: “Illegally released beaver numbers are growing very rapidly without protection.

“This statutory instrument will offer protection, allowing the beaver population to grow even more rapidly, all of which comes at a cost.”

He added: “Now is not the time to be introducing beavers into Scotland and affording them this protection.”

John Scott’s motion to annul the SI that would give #beavers legal protection in #Scotland has been defeated!

Beavers will now gain legal protection in Scotland as of 1 May 2019!

— ScottishWildBeaver (@ScotsBeavers) March 19, 2019

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said she did not recognise Mr Scott’s “somewhat apocalyptic” vision of the future of beavers in Scotland.

She said it was not a question of reintroducing the species, as the animals were already present having been released around the River Tay either by accident, negligence or as a deliberate illegal act prior to 2009.

That year, a Scottish Government-run trial successfully reintroduced the species to Knapdale Forest in Argyll and Bute.

Beavers became extinct in Britain in the 16th century, mainly due to over-hunting.

Ms Cunningham said there would be no way of removing the animals in Tayside without sending in “kill squads”.

She said: “What we anticipate now is that beavers will simply be allowed to spread naturally.”

She said “pop-up” populations in geographically separate parts of Scotland would not be tolerated.

Scottish cabinet reshuffle
Roseanna Cunningham said the Government wants the beaver population to spread naturally (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Ms Cunningham said some 20 countries had already reinstated beavers and she would be “very glad to have Scotland be the 21st country to do a successful reintroduction of the beaver”.

Questioned if compensation will be offered to farmers affected, she said it is not currently under discussion and instead they will be supported to manage the impact of beavers so compensation is not required.

She questioned the point of Mr Scott’s motion to annul which she said would not change anything he was raising concerns about.

Her party colleague Stewart Stevenson said the legislation allowed for culling as it provided exemptions from protection to deal with any impact on fishing and the environment.

The Labour and Green members of the committee backed adding beavers to the list of protected species, highlighting their contribution to biodiversity.