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Beavers back for good in Scotland

(Adult beaver at Knapdale by Steve Gardner)

The two lead partners in the Scottish Beaver Trial – the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the Scottish Wildlife Trust – have warmly welcomed today’s (24 November 2016) announcement from the Scottish Government that the Eurasian beaver is to be formally recognised as a native species, 400 years after being hunted to extinction in the UK.

Returning beavers to Scotland’s lochs and rivers is the first formal mammal reintroduction in UK history. Today’s announcement is a major success story for conservation, and the culmination of nearly two decades’ work.

The project partners are delighted to be given the green light to reinforce the existing population in Knapdale, Argyll, and welcome the news that the established population on the River Tay will be allowed to remain in place. However, in order for the species to have a long-term future in Scotland and recolonise across much of its former range, further releases – following the Scottish Translocation Code and with the full support of a range of stakeholders – will be necessary over the next few years.

The Scottish Beaver Trial has set the standard for species reintroductions in the UK. Today’s announcement from the Scottish Government underlines the widespread benefits beavers can bring both to habitats, other species and the local economy.

These benefits include creating new wetlands that support a wide range of other species such as otters, water voles, fish and dragonflies; creating more diverse woodlands through naturally coppicing trees; and helping to regulate flooding and improve water quality. An increase in beavers is also certain to boost wildlife tourism in Scotland, helping to grow a sector that is already worth £127 million per year to our economy.

(Beaver at Loch of the Lowes by Ron Walsh)

The project partners recognise that beaver activity needs to be carefully monitored and managed, particularly where it impacts on other land uses. RZSS and the Scottish Wildlife Trust are committed to working closely with government, farmers, landowners and other key stakeholders to establish an effective management framework for the species, something which we would seek to put in place ahead of the next breeding season in March.

Barbara Smith, Chief Executive of RZSS, said: “Today is a truly historic day for Scottish conservation. Returning a keystone species to the wild for the first time in 400 years is a tremendous achievement for RZSS and our partners the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and we welcome the government’s commitment to the species both in Knapdale and further afield.

“Establishing a clear and comprehensive management plan for the species should now be our top priority, drawing upon IUCN best practice guidelines and bringing together stakeholders from across the conservation, land management and farming spectrum. We would urge government to take a lead on this issue and firm up plans ahead of the breeding season next spring.

“We also feel strongly that further release sites will need to be considered in the short- to medium-term if the species is to fully re-establish itself as part of the Scottish landscape.”

Jonathan Hughes, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “This is a major milestone for Scotland’s wildlife and the wider conservation movement. Beavers are one of the world’s best natural engineers. Their ability to create new wetlands and restore native woodland is remarkable and improves conditions for a wide range of species including dragonflies, otters and fish.

“The return of beavers also has great potential for education and wildlife tourism. We have already seen at Knapdale how their presence is a tremendous draw for visitors from all over the world, which in turn brings social and economic benefits to the rural economy.

“We’re now looking forward to continuing to work with the Scottish Government and partners in the next phase of this initiative. The Scottish Beaver Trial is a textbook example of how to approach the reintroduction of a keystone species that should set the standard for future projects.”

The Scottish Beaver Trial was a five-year partnership project between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and host Forestry Commission Scotland to undertake a time-limited, five-year trial reintroduction of Eurasian beavers to Knapdale, Mid-Argyll. It concluded in 2014.

Article taken from: http://www.rzss.org.uk/news/article/12236/beavers-back-for-good/

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Beavers ‘help to prevent flooding’, says study

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Scotland currently has two separate beaver populations – one in Argyll and another in Tayside

Scotland’s beaver population may help to prevent flooding, according to an academic study.

The rodents, which are living wild around the River Tay, were accused by some locals of contributing to flooding in the Perthshire village of Alyth.

But Stirling University researchers said beaver dams helped to mitigate flooding by storing and then slowly releasing water.

And they said beaver dams also helped to improve local wildlife habitats.

The study was part of a 13-year programme of research by the university’s scientists, who studied streams which drained water from 13 hectares of surrounding countryside.

Areas where beavers were known to have been active were compared with areas in which they were absent.

Pools created by the dams had 20 times more aquatic plant life, and the number of species in the surrounding habitat was 28% higher.

There were also fewer agricultural pollutants present, with the levels of phosphorus at about half of those in the inactive areas and nitrate levels 40% lower.

But the researchers said the benefits brought by beavers had to be weighed against the potential for occasional negative impacts on fisheries, forestry and farm crops.

Farmers and landowners have said the animals damage trees and cause flooding in fields alongside burns and rivers.

Dr Nigel Willby, of Stirling University’s School of Natural Sciences, said: “Beavers have been previously incorrectly blamed for flooding, particularly near Alyth where our study was conducted.

“However, all the beaver dams remained standing upstream of the floods during July and more recent flooding.

“Our work points to the fact that by having the beaver dams present on a stream the floods are locally mitigated, as these dams store and slowly release water, unlike an un-dammed, straight streams where water flows without obstacle.”

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The research suggested beaver dams brought several benefits to the local environment

The research has been published in the Wiley-Blackwell journal Freshwater Biology.

NFU Scotland deputy director of policy Andrew Bauer said: “Statistically, it was always likely that there would be small pockets of land where the environmental benefit might outweigh the considerable problems being caused.

“There is no indication where the 13 hectares mentioned in this case are, but any benefits seen in localised areas will need to be viewed by the environment minister against the damage being done to productive farmland, long standing flood banks and established woodland on large parts of Tayside.”

Anne Gray, policy officer at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “We are not opposed to official trials of beaver reintroductions but this process has to be properly managed, which did not happen with the illegal release in Tayside.

“As we know from the trial at Knapdale, there may be some environmental benefits from beavers but this must be balanced against the negative impacts on many farm and forestry businesses.”

Eurasian beavers were hunted to extinction in Scotland in the 16th century, but the Scottish government has been trialling a reintroduction scheme at Knapdale Forest in Argyll.

The Tay beavers are unconnected to this official reintroduction, and are thought to have originated as escapees or illegal releases from private collections.

Last month, there were calls for restrictions on shooting beavers to be introduced after it emerged animals that were heavily pregnant or had recently given birthwere among those shot by landowners in Tayside.

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-35578369

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Beavers and young suffering slow painful deaths in landowner shooting cull

Farmers and landowners have been inhumanely shooting beavers causing them to suffer slow, painful deaths, and their babies to starve, according to official port-mortem reports.

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Autopsies of 21 beavers shot dead around Tayside since 2010 reveal that two were pregnant and two were feeding their young. Three were shot with low-calibre guns, or from too far away to ensure instant death.

Roisin Campbell-Palmer, the conservation projects manager at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), has described the figures in a private email as just “the tip of the iceberg” of a “growing” and “depressing” tendency to kill beavers. RZSS, which conducted the post-mortems, had to buy “a new freezer for beaver bodies”, she said.

The revelations have shocked campaigners and politicians, who are demanding urgent action by Scottish ministers to end the cruelty. Farming and landowning groups have defended the need to kill beavers, but say it should be done humanely.

Beavers were hunted to extinction in Scotland in the 16th century, but some escaped captivity or were illegally released into the wild on Tayside about ten years ago. There are now reckoned to be over 150 living on the Tay, the Earn, the Isla and other rivers and burns.

But because they were not legally introduced, there are no rules preventing them from being killed in the breeding season, or specifying the type of firearms that should be used. Such rules, including closed seasons for shooting, are common to prevent unnecessary cruelty when culling other wild animals.

Internal emails released under freedom of information law to BBC Scotland reveal that RZSS has been unsuccessfully urging the introduction of a closed season for beavers since last summer. In a letter on August 12 to the government’s wildlife agency, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), RZSS highlighted a series of “disturbing findings” from recent post-mortems.

One adult female autopsied was found to have recently given birth to four young, known as kits. “We wish to flag up the welfare concern that these kits most likely later died through starvation,” said RZSS, which is based at Edinburgh Zoo.

An autopsy report for another female beaver on July 15 2015 concluded that it had been shot from too far away to ensure an instantaneous kill. “It may have taken several minutes to die,” the report said.

Other post-mortems found dead foetuses in female beavers that had been killed. RZSS told the Sunday Herald that it had raised “welfare concerns” directly with the Scottish Government, but it was still awaiting a response.

Libby Anderson, policy advisor to the animal welfare group OneKind, pointed out that the beavers were not to blame for their unauthorised presence on Tayside. “It is shocking to hear of these harmless animals being inexpertly shot and suffering slow, painful deaths, and that young kits have been left to starve,” she said.

“Further delay in deciding their legal status only exposes more animals to suffering due to mis-shooting or killing during the breeding season. We urge the Scottish Government to step in and give them legal protection as a matter of urgency, before the next season’s kits are born.”

Summary information on the shot beavers was obtained by Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone, the deputy convener of Holyrood’s cross-party group on animal welfare. “Animal cruelty is simply wrong, and there can be no excuses for inhumane killing of wild creatures in 21st century Scotland,” she said.

“Scottish ministers need to get off the fence, accept that beavers have a positive role to play in terms of biodiversity, and that they deserve legal protection. The poor treatment of these amazing creatures will shock many people.”

Concerns have also been expressed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and by SNH. “We share welfare concerns about beavers shot with inappropriate firearms and ammunition, and those with dependent young,” said SNH’s director of operations Nick Halfhide.

“We have asked land managers not to shoot beavers in Tayside but instead seek advice from us on mitigation, such as protecting trees and discouraging dam building. However, if they choose to use lethal control, we have offered them advice on how to do so humanely.”

The National Farmers Union in Scotland said the failure to remove illegal beavers from Tayside had pushed the responsibility onto farmers. Farmers had been refused permission to trap the animals, and mitigation methods had not proved effective.

“They have therefore had to carry out legal lethal control as a last resort in order to protect very productive farmland from damage due to drainage systems being blocked by beaver activity,” said the union’s deputy director Andrew Bauer.

“In the vast majority of cases, those beavers that have been shot have been killed humanely. In a very small number of cases, beavers may not have been killed humanely – a sad outcome and one that no farmer would wish for.”

Scottish Land and Estates, which represents landowners, criticised the Scottish Government for failing to issue advice on controlling beavers. “Our own advice to farmers and landowners has been to control only where it is necessary, to look at all options and, if lethal control is the only reasonable option, to carry this out in the most humane way possible,” said the group’s Ann Gray.

Following a trial with beavers at Knapdale in Argyll, Scottish ministers originally promised a decision in 2015 on whether or not to allow their reintroduction in Scotland. But the decision, which could give the Tayside beavers legal protection, has still to be made, and may be months away.

The environment minister, Aileen McLeod, “will be taking time to consider the issue carefully and listen to the views of stakeholders before making a decision on the future of beavers in Scotland,” said a Scottish Government spokeswoman.

“There is currently no legal protection for beavers in Scotland. We are aware that farmers on Tayside are experiencing issues with beavers and encourage land managers to consult with SNH on mitigation measures rather than resort to lethal control.”

Article taken from: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14242587.Beavers_and_young_suffering_slow_painful_deaths_in_landowner_shooting_cull/

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Tayside farmers shooting German beavers

At least 21 invading German beavers have been killed in Scotland after they built dozens of dams on farmers’ land.

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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.

Article taken from: http://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/tayside-farmers-shooting-german-beavers-1-3958204#ixzz3sc7ZUael

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Immigrant beavers adapting well to life in Tayside

They were introduced illegally and threatened with being eradicated but now they are thriving.

More than 150 European beavers, which have lived in Tayside for at least nine years, are “well adapted” to modern Scotland and free of harmful diseases, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) revealed yesterday.

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However, it said a new study also showed beavers building dams and burrowing into flood banks could drench farmland, a situation which would have to be tackled if the beavers were to be allowed to stay.

The success of the mammals, which were hunted to extinction in Scotland 400 years ago, could signal their official reintroduction. This is because SNH said ministers will have to decide either to keep them or remove them.

The Tayside beavers could force the Scottish Government’s hand because appeasing farmers with damage mitigation work is likely to be more politically ­acceptable than a likely public outcry if they were to be eradicated once more.

The Tayside animals, originally from Germany, are believed to have escaped or been released from private collections.

They are found in rivers ranging from Kinloch Rannoch, Kenmore and Crieff to Bridge of Earn, Perth and Forfar. The thriving colonies have also overshadowed an official beaver trial, at Knapdale, west of Lochgilphead in Argyll, which was launched with 16 arrivals from Norway in 2009.

That got off to a faltering start, with only half surviving, but numbers have since remained stable despite a high number of young beavers dying. However, experts said the project was not intended to be self-sustaining.

Ministers gave the Tayside beavers a stay of execution three years ago pending the Knapdale trial but will have to decide their fate after SNH submits a final report next month. SNH said the biggest concern among farmers had been on the lower River Isla flood plain where it meets the River Tay, south of Blairgowrie.

It said: “Any beaver dams left in place here could cause the extensive network of drainage ditches to fail, causing flooding and interfering with cultivation of productive land.

“Beaver burrows in earth flood banks also increased the risk of a breach and flooding of the farm land behind.

“A number of methods to protect trees from being gnawed and felled and to reduce water levels behind dams were trialled successfully.

“The impacts of burrowing in flood banks and regular damming of drainage networks were more challenging to manage.”

SNH Tayside and Grampian area manager David Bale, who chaired the Tayside Beaver Study Group, said: “Our work documenting the impacts of beavers on land management interests has shown that in many situations, beavers are likely to cause few concerns.

“But if they were to be permanently reintroduced, efficient, effective and affordable ways of managing and reducing potentially significant impacts on intensively farmed land and other interests would have to be found.”

Farmers’ leaders said beavers should not be given protected status. NFU Scotland spokesman Andrew Bauer said: “We believe that already-stretched SNH ­species management budgets cannot cope with the high costs of managing what many call ­‘nature’s engineer’.

“Beaver reintroduction would divert resources and attention away from helping indigenous species, such as the wildcat and capercaille that are under threat.”

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Trapping wild beavers in Devon would be unlawful, ministers told

The environmental charity Friends of the Earth has warned that government plans to capture wild beavers living on a river in Devon could be illegal under European laws.

FoE’s legal team has written to the environment secretary, Liz Truss, calling for the trapping of the animals, thought to be the first to live in the wild in England in centuries, to be halted.

The charity argues that because Britain formed part of the beaver’s natural range before they were hunted to extinction they are covered by EU laws governing protected species.

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FoE campaigner Alasdair Cameron said: “Beavers belong in England. Beavers bring huge benefits to the environment, reducing flooding and boosting fish stocks and biodiversity. Rather than try and get rid of them, we should be thrilled to have them back in our landscape.”

Most people who live near the beavers’ home on the river Otter appear to back the creatures’ right to stay. But the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) plans to trap the colony and transfer the mammals to a zoo or wildlife park, arguing they are an invasive non-native species and could carry disease. There are no plans to cull the beavers.

Cameron said: “The government needs to listen to what local people are saying, instead of taking a knee-jerk response. This is a fantastic opportunity to study the return of a beautiful and iconic creature. The government says it needs to remove these beavers because of the threat of disease, but that’s just an excuse. They are very unlikely to be carrying infection. In any case they could be easily tested and returned to the river.”

FoE says under article 12 of the EU habitats directive the UK government is required to protect beavers “in their natural range” and is not entitled to kill or capture them.

It argues that the historic prevalence of beavers, the success of reintroduction programmes – one official, one unofficial – in Scotland and the fact that the animals are doing well in Devon backs the notion that the UK certainly is their natural range.

Tom Buckley, a retired environmental scientist who photographed beavers on the river Otter, said he was delighted that FoE was joining the campaign.

However, Defra insists trapping beavers is lawful because they have not been an “established part” of British wildlife for 500 years.

A spokesperson said: “Their presence could have a negative impact on the surrounding environment and wildlife. These animals may also carry a disease which could pose a risk to human health. That is why we are taking precautionary action to test the beavers. Once captured and tested, we intend to re-home them in a suitable location, and all decisions will be made with the welfare of the beavers in mind.”

The spokesman said trapping was “entirely lawful” and licences to capture and transport the beavers had been issued by Natural England.

Article taken from: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/25/wild-beavers-devon-uk-eu-habitats-directive

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