Beavers Given Native Species Status After Reintroduction to Scotland
Large populations of wild beavers living in the southern and western Highlands of Scotland are to be allowed to expand naturally after ministers granted them protected status.
For the first time since it was hunted to extinction about 300 years ago, the beaver will be officially designated as a native British species,the Scottish environment secretary announced on Thursday.
Rosesanna Cunningham said this was the first formal reintroduction of a once native mammal in the UK, a significant milestone in the slow process of rewilding parts of the British isles. Until now, official reintroductions have focused largely on birds of prey, though wild boar have colonised forests in southern Englandafter escaping from farms and parks. The beavers were reintroduced to Scotland from Norway.
Conservationists said they were delighted. The Scottish Wildlife Trust said beavers created new wetlands, which supported otters, water voles and dragonflies, and helped to regulate flooding and reinvigorate woodland.
Jonathan Hughes, the SWT’s chief executive, 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.”
Cunningham’s announcement was seen by zoologists and conservationists as inevitable: dozens of European beavers have been illegally and stealthily released in the Highlands or have escaped from private collections over the past decade. Previously captive beavers have also tried to colonise parts of southern England.
An expensive and long-term pilot reintroduction project in Knapdale, Argyll, where three beaver families were released in 2009 under a government licence, was usurped by the rapid spread of illegally released beavers in Tayside and Perthshire.
Up to 250 beavers are estimated to be living in rivers and lochs over several hundred square miles in the catchments of the rivers Tay and Earn, reaching as far north as Kinloch Rannoch and eastwards to Forfar, north of Dundee. Dozens have been shot by landowners and farmers, who are angry about consequent flooding and tree loss.
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Photo: A beaver in Knapdale in the Scottish Highlands. Photograph: Steve Gardner/Scottish Wildlife Trust/PA