skip to main content
Tayside beaver recapture - 20-DEC-2010 : Press Release Details

News

Tayside beaver recapture

20-DEC-2010

We have produced this statement to clarify matters regarding our role in trapping beavers in Tayside.

A number beavers have either escaped or been deliberately released into the wild in Tayside. Unlicensed release of animals in an area where they would not ordinarily be found is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which is why the police are involved.

Responsibility for the current situation, and the future fate of the feral beavers, lies entirely with those who failed to keep them in captivity and who have now failed to come forward and take responsibility for them.

SNH sought the views of the National Species Reintroduction Forum which agreed that the most appropriate and responsible thing to do would be to recapture the Tayside feral beavers.

Membership of this forum includes conservationists, public agencies and wildlife charities, as well as farming, fishing, forestry and landowning interests (see full list at the end of this note).

The reasons for supporting recapture are:

there was no consultation with local people;

there was no licence issued for their release;

there is no monitoring of their welfare, ecology or effects;

there is no monitoring of animal or public health;

there is no plan or system of management in place; and

there is no certainty that they are the appropriate species or type of beaver for Scotland.

SASA (Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), in collaboration with the police and local landowners, are now trapping the beavers.

We admire and respect the enthusiasm of people who are keen to see reintroductions of native animals to Scotland. We understand the strong ecological arguments in favour.

Like it or not, however, there are legal considerations that govern how this can be done, put in place by Parliaments to achieve the correct balance.

We would also question whether public support for beaver reintroduction includes support for illegal and secret releases of animals to the wild.

There is a licensed and carefully managed trial reintroduction of beavers underway at Knapdale in Argyll. This trial is being carried out by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, in accordance with international guidelines. SNH is coordinating the independent monitoring of the trial in partnership with a number of other bodies.

The European beaver is not listed as a protected species under domestic legislation because they are not ordinarily resident in Britain. We expect this would be reviewed if they were to be reintroduced permanently to Scotland.

Origin of the beavers

The beavers that would once have inhabited Scotland were 'western form' European beavers. This is the specific form being used in the licensed reintroduction project currently underway in Argyll. They have come from Norway.

If European beaver reintroduction is ever approved by the Scottish Government in the future, there could be the opportunity for Scotland to become a refuge for the western form of European beaver.

The origin of the Tayside beavers is uncertain. Most are believed to be from Bavaria. This means they are most likely 'eastern form' European, or a blend of eastern and western form.

Bavarian beavers can be carriers of a parasite tapeworm which is potentially harmful to human health and up until now has not been found in Great Britain. If any of the Tayside feral beavers are carrying this parasite, it could become established in the Scottish wildlife.

The parasite does not occur in Norway, and so Norwegian beavers are not carriers.

Since nobody has admitted responsibility for the Tay beavers, there is also a chance that the North American beaver could be present. There are increasing numbers of records of these occurring in Europe.

Although it is unlikely that North American animals are present, we are not keen to take the risk.

These are all very valid reasons why the beavers in Tayside could not become part of the licensed reintroduction trial, and why they should be recaptured.

Also, at the end of the trial period the Scottish Government will decide whether it is appropriate and/or desirable to have beavers in Scotland. If they do they will extend the reintroduction beyond the trial phase. Alternatively, they may decide it's not appropriate and to abandon the reintroduction altogether.

The recapture of the Tayside beavers would by then be a much more expensive and onerous task than it is at present.

As for the scale of the task, we will learn more about this as the trapping exercise progresses. Evidence suggests there are between seven and 20 beavers loose in Tayside. Bait testing indicates that trapping them is feasible.

Welfare is a key consideration. The area being trapped initially has been used by three beavers; two kits and their mother. The kits are about 18 months old and welfare advice tells us they are capable of survival without their mother.

The beaver hunting season in Norway runs from October to April, confirming that this is the most appropriate time to trap them. We want to avoid trapping after dependent baby kits' might appear around mid-spring.

Trapped beavers will be handed over to the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland for holding and re-housing. As part of this RZSS will be contacting wildlife parks and zoos around the UK that have suitable enclosures to house beavers.

Capturing beavers is not something we ever thought we would have to be involved in, nor is it something we would want to be spending resources on, particularly in such times as these.

However to take no action, and allow the feral beavers to remain in the wild, would be to ignore well established wildlife legislation and international species reintroduction guidelines. It would also set a very dangerous precedent; and possibly even encourage other illegal animal releases.

That is not something that SNH, or any government organisation, can do.

Ends.

NOTES

The national Species Reintroduction Forum had its first meeting in May 2009. It is chaired by SNH and has a membership representing a range of stakeholders from land use, conservation and science sectors. The overall role of the Forum is to contribute to broad scale, strategic issues relating to species reintroductions in Scotland. Current membership includes: Association of Scottish Fishery Boards; Scottish Government; British Association for Shooting and Conservation; National Farmers Union Scotland; Scottish Gamekeepers Association; Scottish Rural Property and Business Association; British Waterways; Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; Scottish Environment Protection Agency; Scottish Water; Royal Zoological Society of Scotland; Scottish Natural Heritage (Chair); Scottish Wildlife Trust; Forestry Commission Scotland.

For further information: Calum Macfarlane, SNH Inverness, 01463 725020


Author: Calum Macfarlane
Contact: SNH Press Office