Wednesday, 25 January 2012


The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) is calling on ministers to carry out further research on Tayside’s illegal beavers, fearing a hasty decision to let them roam could cause major environmental damage.

Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson is expected to make a judgement soon on the future of the rogue beavers, which are building lodges in waterways between Aberfeldy, Forfar, Dundee and Perth.

One option put forward in an advisory paper by Scottish Natural Heritage, is to let the rodents roam free, with SNH saying the cost of trapping them could prove too costly.

However, the SGA, which represents 5300 members, is calling for Holyrood to press the pause button on this, believing legitimisation- without due research- could lead to major flooding and forestry problems.

It is estimated around 100 beavers, an illegal species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, have taken residence in the area since being allegedly released from private collections.

The SGA has evidence that these animals are now causing serious flood problems on agricultural land, rendering parts of fields unproductive.

Photographic evidence also highlights significant damage to forestry on river-banks, with potential threats to public homes due to the destruction of natural flood defences.

The organisation is asking ministers to look closer at the situation and has offered the expertise of its membership to help conduct detailed field research.

“There has to be a pause for thought on this because people have no real idea as to the long term damage that could be caused to agricultural land and to trees which are needed to bind riverbanks in many areas,” said SGA Spokesman, Bert Burnett.

“The freak rain storms we have been having recently have shown some areas to be more prone to flooding than others and, if there are beavers there, it is likely this will occur on a more regular basis.

“The genuine fear is that, if we leave things the way they are, then we could be creating a problem which may have to be solved, at great public cost, at a later date.

 “We have armies of members who are assessing rivers every day and could relay the necessary information. We also have many people well versed in trapping techniques and we would be more than happy to offer assistance.”
Some farmers, where beavers have taken up residence, are already experiencing problems with field flooding and blocked drains.

One individual in Angus is now having to fell beaver lodges weekly on an adjacent burn to prevent large-scale flooding, with the animals regularly raising the water level by over a foot.

“If I wasn’t having flood problems, I would be happy for the beavers to stay but I don’t honestly see how we can carry on with it,” he said.

“They have caused significant damage to trees and, if these were young trees planted in the last twenty years, they would more or less have cleared them all by now.

“They are very efficient and, if they damn up a small burn, the water level doesn’t need to rise very far before it covers the ends of drains, which then don’t work, causing flooding to fields.

“Our field has been flooded and, if it was harvest time, you would not get a combine harvester or heavy machinery near it. You would simply lose that productive part of the field.

“If it was Spring or harvest time, I doubt clearing the damns once a week would be enough. It is going to become a constant management issue now unless something is done.”

Unlike the trial reintroduction of imported beavers in Knapdale, Argyll,  the Tayside population has grown since individual animals were released in contravention of law.

Alternative options put forward by SNH to deal with the issue is to capture them by trapping or to wait to see the result of the Knapdale trial.

In European countries like Norway, beavers are treated as vermin due to the damage to mature birch woodlands caused by flooding, as a result of river damning.

The SGA believe there is now enough evidence in Tayside and Angus for the situation to be assessed more thoroughly.

“Before these animals are allowed to breed freely, we need to know the numbers and the facts,” added SGA Spokesman, Bert Burnett.

“There is a desire to have 25 per cent more forestry in Scotland, with one option being to plant more trees beside water courses to improve habitat.

“It seems counter-productive, then, to spend millions doing this and then allow animals that are going to undo it, to roam freely. We don’t feel that enough effort has been made to trap the animals to date and we would be happy to help,” he said.

There have been similar examples in Scotland of animals being released into the wild, causing management headaches. 

American Mink became established after escaping, or being released from, fur farms; a development similar to what has happened in Tayside and Angus with beaver.

Mink are now the subject of a heavily funded cross-agency eradication programme because of the devastating impact they have had on ground-nesting birds and fish.

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