Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Another Press Release from Scottish Natural Heritage

This is the latest press release from Scottish Natural Heritage with comments from Louise Ramsay in red. The comments in blue are from me (Paul Ramsay)

Tayside beaver recapture

We have produced this statement to clarify matters regarding our involvement in trapping feral 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.

The position of SNH and the Scottish Government is questionable. The equivalent body in England to SNH is Natural England. In 2009 they published a document:

NECR002 - The feasibility and acceptability of reintroducing the European beaver to England.

This may be found at

The chapter on the legal position of the beaver is particularly illuminating.

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.

This happened nearly ten years ago.  Why all the fuss now?  It would seem that the SRPBA has put its foot down. (They claim this as their victory on their website.) Do they run wildlife policy in this country then?

The national Species Reintroduction Forum agreed therefore 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).

Who are the national Species Reintroduction Forum? Many of the bodies on this forum are opposed to beavers.  No specialists in reintroductions or beavers were invited, other than the SWT who have now distanced themselves from this decision.

(See the following email from Simon Milne).

From: Simon Milne <>
Date: 20 December 2010 12:50:24 GMT
To: Louise Ramsay <>
Subject: Unlicensed Beavers

Just left a message on your answer-phone, and will try to call you later.  The issue of the feral beavers is indeed taxing. Things have moved on from the initial discussions at the Reintroductions Forum and SWT’s Council agreed line is:

1.    The Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) believes that the European beaver should be re-established in the wild in Scotland.
2.    SWT opposes the unlicensed release (intentional or accidental) of beavers into the Scottish countryside because it is illegal to release to the wild any animal which is not normally resident in Great Britain.
3.    SWT recognises that given the presence of beavers living free in parts of the Scottish countryside, it is the responsibility of the Scottish Government to decide what, if anything, is to be done about this.

The reasons for supporting recapture are:

there was no consultation with local people;

The Scottish people were polled in the late 90s and 59% were in favour.  Informally, there was local consultation.  Many local people visited the beavers at Bamff whose dams lie along the Cateran trial: many attended talks and guided tours.

Furthermore, there has been no consultation about the removal of the  beavers to which many local people have become very attached.

there was no licence issued for their release;

It was an escape. But yes, it's true it wasn’t licensed.

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

there is nothing to stop SNH monitoring them now.

there is no monitoring of animal or public health;


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

One could be made if it were thought necessary. 

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

Species can be tested without trapping.  (SNH know very well that it they are very unlikely to be the  wrong species).

You all know the” type” issue.

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.

What? During this cold weather? I thought we had been told they weren’t.

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.

That's nice! Are SNH the 'wrong kind' of conservationists?

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.

See NECR002.

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

This is a separate matter from the legal status of the beavers.

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.

Some might say that the 'careful management' was one of gross over interference with the animals and may have contributed to the high mortality.

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.

It is quite possible that Scotland is breaking European law by not putting them on the “ordinarily resident” list now that they are breeding. ( See NECR002)

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.

(And are inbred.)

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.

This is surely a most bizarre notion! There are 160,000 Eurasian beavers in Norway and Sweden, all descended from the may be 200 survivors in Telemark. Why would the United Kingdom be necessary as a refuge for the western form of the European beaver?

There are Bavarian beavers in the Thames and the Tamar as well, that have escaped from zoos and enclosures. 

Perhaps SNH's plan is to restore the beaver to England by stealth, as those caught in the Tay escape from captivity in those licensed zoos?

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.

The group knows this issue pretty well. Duncan Halley’s paper in Mammal Review is the last word on this subject.  The Kitchener Paper that SNH is going on is based on three skulls in the archaeological record.

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.

We are looking into this just now, but suspect that this is a storm in a teacup. I will post more on this later.

Is SNH clutching at straws? 

The parasite does not occur in Norway, and so Norwegian beavers are not known to be 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.

We’ve seen this before. As before, it is vanishingly unlikely, but could be checked by genetically testing hairs. One sample from each colony would settle the subject.

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.

None of them is valid.

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.

If the Argyll trial is deemed a failure, (and no doubt this is what the SRPBA would like), then the Tayside beavers may turn out to be the only chance of a reintroduction this side of 2050.  Scotland would look like a very unfriendly place to wildlife compared to all its European neighbours. I don’t get the impression that this would draw a true picture of attitudes in Scotland.

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.

If welfare of the beavers really was a consideration SNH would leave them alone.

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 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.

I don’t think the Belgians worried about this when they welcomed and protected their illegally introduced beavers.

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

In that case, are they trapping and removing all the grey squirrels, mink,, etc. and removing Japanese knotweed, Chinese balsam etc etc.  And if not why not? These and other non native species cost the British people around  1.7 billion every year



Scottish Natural Heritage is the Government's adviser on all aspects of nature and landscape across Scotland. Our role is to help everyone understand, value and enjoy Scotland's nature now and in the future. For further information on SNH, please visit our website at

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.

Most of these bodies know nothing about beavers. Some are hostile, others indifferent.  SRPBA claim this as their victory. (See their website).  SWT, one of only two conservation bodies on the forum has pulled back to a fence sitting position.

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

1 comment:

  1. Questions at Holyrood