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MSP fails in bid to prevent beavers becoming protected species

The animal will be given legal protection in Scotland despite a Conservative MSP’s concerns about their impact on farmers.

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An MSP attempted to stop beavers being given protection (Steve Gardner/Scottish Wildlife Trust/PA)

An MSP attempted to stop beavers being given protection (Steve Gardner/Scottish Wildlife Trust/PA)

An MSP attempted to stop beavers being given protection (Steve Gardner/Scottish Wildlife Trust/PA)

Beavers will be given legal protection in Scotland after an attempt by a Conservative MSP to prevent the move was voted down.

Beavers will now be added to list of European protected species, meaning culling can only be carried out under licence.

Licences, managed by Scottish Natural Heritage, will also be required to remove dams more than two weeks old.

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John Scott argued the protected status would allow beavers to grow more rapidly (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

John Scott argued the protected status would allow beavers to grow more rapidly (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

John Scott argued the protected status would allow beavers to grow more rapidly (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

John Scott, Tory MSP for Ayr, told the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee beavers were “illegally” released in the River Tay catchment area and grew from around 146 in 2012 to up to 500 by 2018.

He said their dams can cause floods and affect the structure of riverbanks, damaging farmland and costing thousands of pounds to fix.

Mr Scott, a farmer, said beaver activity could hit wild salmon stocks and raised concerns dams could affect flood mitigation schemes and cause flooding upriver – posing a flood risk to Perth.

Putting forward a motion to annul the legislation change, he said: “Illegally released beaver numbers are growing very rapidly without protection.

“This statutory instrument will offer protection, allowing the beaver population to grow even more rapidly, all of which comes at a cost.”

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said she did not recognise Mr Scott’s “somewhat apocalyptic” vision of the future of beavers in Scotland.

She said the animals were released around the River Tay either by accident, negligence or as a deliberate illegal act, prior to a 2009 Scottish Government-run trial which successfully reintroduced the species in Knapdale, Argyll and Bute.

Beavers became extinct in Britain in the 16th century, mainly due to over-hunting.

Ms Cunningham said there would be no way of removing the animals in Tayside without sending in “kill squads”.

She said: “What we anticipate now is that beavers will simply be allowed to spread naturally.”

She said “pop-up” populations in geographically separate parts of Scotland would not be tolerated.

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Roseanna Cunningham said the Government wants the beaver population to spread naturally (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Roseanna Cunningham said the Government wants the beaver population to spread naturally (Andrew Milligan/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

Roseanna Cunningham said the Government wants the beaver population to spread naturally (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Ms Cunningham said some 20 countries had already reinstated beavers and she would be “very glad to have Scotland be the 21st country to do a successful reintroduction of the beaver”.

Questioned if farmers affected will be compensated, she said it is not currently under discussion and instead they will be supported to manage the impact of beavers so compensation is not required.

She questioned the point of Mr Scott’s motion to annul which she said would not change anything he was raising concerns about.

Her party colleague Stewart Stevenson said the legislation allowed for culling as it provided exemptions from protection to deal with any impact on fishing and the environment.

The Labour and Green members of the committee backed adding beavers to the list of protected species, highlighting their contribution to biodiversity.

Green MSP John Finnie, announced as the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s new champion for the Eurasian beaver, said: “The beaver is a keystone species because of the multiple benefits it can have on biodiversity and Scotland has already benefited from their reintroduction – but sadly they have been targeted for indiscriminate killing, including of pregnant mums and their young.

“That’s why Greens have pushed consistently for these vital legal protections – but the Tories should hang their heads in shame for trying to roll back the clock instead of boosting Scotland’s precious biodiversity.”

PA