The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, has announced that beavers will be allowed to remain in Scotland and be listed as a protected species. The long-awaited decision means that for the first time a mammal has been officially reintroduced into the UK, and has been welcomed by many, including: Scottish Natural Heritage, The Scottish Wildlife Trust, and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. The official news website for the Scottish Government provides details that Scottish Ministers have agreed that:
- Beaver populations in Argyll and Tayside can remain;
- The species will receive legal protection, in accordance with the EU Habitats Directive;
- Beavers will be allowed to expand their range naturally;
- Beavers should be actively managed to minimise adverse impacts on farmers and other land owners;
- It will remain an offence for beavers to be released without a licence, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
The decision has been widely reported: BBC News, The Guardian, Daily Record, The Telegraph, Argyllshire Advertiser, Third Force News
Devon Wildlife Trust have launced a crowdfunding campaign to support the re-introduction and monitoring of beavers on the River Otter, Devon. The science-led project is one year into a five year trial licenced by the government. For more information and ways to support the campaign, visit their website (also see Devon Wildlife Trust River Otter Beaver Trial).
One of the female beavers involved in the licensed River Otter Beaver Trial being carried out by Devon Wildlife Trust has been filmed with a kit (BBC News). Altogether there are thought to be three kits in the family group, which is an encouraging sign that the trial is going well.
On June 2nd, the Herald Express reported a large, decomposed beaver washed up on a beach in Brixham in Devon, southwest England. Beavers will frequent river estuaries but are not sea-living creatures. This animal is likely to have been washed down a tidal river into the sea and then moved by currents. Subsequent reports indicate the body did not have a head and was not micro-chipped. Thus, there is no evidence to link the body with other beaver populations in Devon – where it came from must remain a mystery.
An adult male and an adult female beaver were released by Devon Wildlife Trust on the River Otter in Devon on 26th May to join the group of 12 or more animals already living on the river. Their release was approved by Natural England as part of the 5 year River Otter Beaver Trial. DNA tests had shown that the existing beavers were closely related and it is hoped that the new beavers will increase the genetic diversity of the population. Full details of the release can be found on the Devon Wildlife Trust website – also The Guardian, BBC News, ITV, Exeter Express & Echo, YouTube, East Devon 24 Farming Online Trees For Life, The Herald.
A recent paper by Lazar et al. in the Journal of Environmental Quality reports that 5–45% of watershed nitrate-N loading in rural watersheds of southern New England is removed by beaver ponds. This confirms that beaver ponds are substantial sinks for nitrogen (Gizmodo; see Bibliography page for full reference).
Scottish ministers were due to announce a decision about the future of beavers in Scotland in the summer of 2015, just a few months after the 5-year official trial release of beavers at Knapdale had come to the end. However, they have postponed their announcement until later this year (Scottish Government). The delay is disappointing to many people and has raised concerns about the welfare of the beavers, especially those on the River Tay, which currently have no legal protection (see BBC News, The Herald, Evening Times).
A recent article published in Freshwater Biology (also see Bibliography page) based on 13 years of study demonstrates that beaver dams on the River Tay help prevent flooding and improve local habitats. This study counters the claim by landowners in Alyth, Perthshire that beaver activity contributed to the flooding in the village. The debate about the merits of the presence of beavers in the Scottish countryside continues, as everyone waits for the Scottish government to decide on their future. The story has been widely reported: BBC News, Scotland Now, The Guardian, The National, Wildlife Articles.
Scientists at Edinburgh Zoo have carried out post-mortem investigations on 23 beavers from Tayside, Scotland. Of the 21 shot, two were in late pregnancy and two had recently given birth. This has raised welfare concerns about how beavers should be managed (BBC News, The Scotsman, Granset, The News Hub, UK Daily). The Scottish Government has yet to make a decision about the future of beavers in Scotland.