At least 21 invading German beavers have been killed in Scotland after they built dozens of dams on farmers’ land.
The animals, a species that originates in Bavaria, have been thriving since escaping captivity and around 150 are living in the wild in Tayside.
Now it has emerged that the bodies of 21 beavers have been discovered with gunshot wounds since the end of 2012. Farmers and other landowners are suspected of being responsible for the killings and have been urged by conservationists to adopt non-lethal methods to control the species.
Farmers are angry over damage caused on their land, with one landowner claiming 35 beaver dams have been removed from his property.
Beavers were hunted to extinction in Scotland around 500 years ago. The Scottish Government is conducting a beaver reintroduction trial, costing £2 million, in Knapdale, Argyll.
But while the Norwegian beavers have struggled to thrive in Argyll, the Bavarian beavers have taken off in Tayside.
The cost of removing dams, fixing pipe blockages and repairing flood defences is described by the National Farmers’ Union Scotland (NFUS) as “significant”.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland has examined the bodies of 23 beavers in the Tayside area and concluded that while two died in road accidents, the rest were shot dead.
At present, a licence is not needed to shoot beavers as they have no legal protection in the UK. However, possessing and moving a dead beaver is illegal without a licence.
David Bale, Scottish Natural Heritage Tayside & Grampian unit manager and former Tayside Beaver Study Group chairman, said: “We don’t encourage lethal control. Instead, we advocate other solutions, such as protecting trees and discouraging dam building. Removing a beaver simply leaves the territory open for another beaver to move in, so shooting tends to be a short-term solution.”
NFUS said that farmers fear the animals’ impact on productive farmland reliant on complex drainage systems.
A spokesman said: “We have a number of members who are affected by the illegal reintroduction, with one member whose flood bank collapsed due to burrowing of beavers, and another who has had to remove 35 dams from his farm.”
An official scientific trial saw 16 beavers introduced into Knapdale Forest between 2009-2011.