Beaver Decision Notice - Licence Application 241208
Possession, Control, Transport and Release of Eurasian Beavers on land owned and managed by Forestry and Land Scotland within Knapdale Forest and in Tay Forest Park as part of a Forestry and Land Scotland beaver reinforcement project.
Purpose of this document
This decision document:
- Explains how the application has been assessed;
- Provides a record of the decision-making process;
- Details how all material considerations as outlined in the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocation have been considered;
- Details the specific conditions added to the licence, in addition to our generic licence conditions.
Key factors of the assessment
1. Application summary
An application was received by NatureScot on 3rd August 2023 for the release of Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) on land owned and managed by Forestry and Land Scotland at sites within Knapdale Forest and Tay Forest Park as part of a Forestry and Land Scotland beaver reinforcement project. Beavers have been present at Knapdale forest since the Scottish Beaver Trial commenced in 2009. Beavers have been present on Tayside since 2006. It was confirmed that beavers could remain in both locations in 2017 following the completion of a Strategic Environmental Assessment and a Habitats Regulations Assessement. Hence both proposals are considered as population reinforcements.
Beavers will be trapped following best practice under a separate licence, number 222487, and will be health screened before being transported for release. All beavers will be obtained from locations already covered by a NatureScot licence for removal associated with human-beaver conflict. This beaver reinforcement project is proposed as an alternative to translocation to sites in England or Wales or to lethal control at sites where mitigation measures are not feasible or have not been successful in resolving the human-beaver conflict. It is proposed such action will bring benefits to the local beaver populations and wider environmental benefits.
2. Our decision
NatureScot Licensing Officers have undertaken a full assessment of the proposal to relocate beavers to sites within Knapdale Forest and Tay Forest Park.
This assessment has been reviewed by the Licensing Manager who made recommendation to the Head of Wildlife Management for the decision as detailed below:
- The licence application to relocate beavers on land owned and managed by Forestry and Land Scotland within Knapdale Forest and Tay Forest Park has been approved.
- The release sites permit the release of up to four beaver families at these proposed locations. Further releases and release locations will be subject to approval by the NatureScot Licensing team.
3. How we reached our decision
3.1 Assessment of proposal against legislative requirements
Release of a non-native species
Under section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) it is illegal to release, allow to escape from captivity or cause to be at a place outside the control of any person any animal species outside its native range (as defined in the Act) without a licence. ‘Former native’ species are considered to be ‘non-native species’ for the purposes of the Act. Beavers are considered a ‘former native’ species in Scotland. Therefore, any release of beaver into the wild in Scotland requires a non-native species licence under Section 16(4)(c) of the Act.
Requirement to possess, control and transport beavers for release
Forestry and Land Scotland has applied for permission to possess (for the purpose of health screening only), transport and release beavers within Knapdale Forest and Tay Forest Park.
The beavers will be trapped, health screened and PIT tagged (Passive Integrated Transponders) and will then be transported to (following best practice under a separate licence, number 222487), and released at the agreed release sites within Knapdale Forest and Tay Forest Park.
The activity is proposed for the principle purpose of conserving wild animals, with a view to reinforcing the local beaver populations and preserving genetic diversity within the national population.
European Protected Species licensing of these activities requires that they meet the 3 licensing tests as follows:
Test 1 – There must be a licensable purpose:
The possession and transport of beavers is permitted under The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended) (hereafter the Habitats Regulations 1994) for the following licensable purposes:
- Conserving wild animals (primary purpose).
There is a licensable purpose for this proposal and test 1 is passed.
Test 2 – There must be no satisfactory alternative:
NatureScot have considered the alternatives to granting a licence for the stated primary purpose (Regulation 44(3)(a) of The Habitats Regulations 1994). This included, not granting a licence, consideration of alternative locations and the timing; including whether allowing a natural process of colonisation would be a satisfactory alternative.
The trapping element of the project is covered by an existing licence to trap and translocate beavers to approved sites in Scotland. This licence to trap beavers at sites where they have been assessed in accordance with legislation to meet the licensing tests for beaver removal due to an active conflict between beavers and other land management uses. Hence the consequences of trapping or not trapping these animals is not considered further in the consideration of alternatives.
Do Nothing - Not granting a licence in this case would mean that beavers from conflict sites that could have been moved to Forestry and Land Scotland managed sites within Knapdale and Tayside would instead be moved to projects in England and Wales, or killed under a lethal control licence. In both these scenarios the animals will be lost to the Scottish wild beaver population.
Alternative locations – There are currently no other sites in Scotland that are licenced for beaver release that have not already carried out beaver translocations. Therefore, the alternatives to consider in this case are simply whether or not to grant a licence for the possession, control, transport and release of beavers at the proposed Forestry and Land Scotland release sites. Both locations are within catchments with existing wild beaver populations. Hence over time there is the potential for these locations to be occupied by natural dispersal, however, such an approach would be slower and beavers being trapped from conflict sites would still be lost to the Scottish population.
The release of beavers at the proposed sites have been assessed to present a low risk of beaver-human conflict and that potential conflicts can adequately be addressed through appropriate monitoring and mitigation. Wider catchment impacts have previously been assessed through Strategic Environmental Assessments and Habitats Regulations assessments. In the case of Knapdale, there was extensive study of impacts on a wide range of interests during the Scottish Beaver Trial (2009-2014); as summarised in the Beavers in Scotland Report and subsequently the Knapdale Reinforcement Project (2017-2020). The latter report made recommendations for further population reinforcement and improving connectivity between these populations.
NatureScot considers there will be benefits from a population and genetic viewpoint from reinforcing the local beaver populations. The proposed release sites have been assessed and are considered favourable for beavers to establish. The application seeks to take proactive actions to facilitate the restoration of this species and conserve well-adapted, healthy individuals in order to promote the genetic diversity of the Scottish beaver population.
The decision to be proactive is aligned with the vision set out in Scotland's Beaver Strategy 2022-2045. By presenting ecologically suitable sites, which have a low management requirement, Forestry and Land Scotland are providing alternative locations for beavers being removed from sites where there are serious conflicts. It is recognised that beavers are a valuable key stone species and will bring positive biodiversity and ecosystem beavers to these locations.
NatureScot believe that the benefits of releasing beavers at sites in Knapdale forest and Tay Forest Park outweigh the potential negative impacts and that monitoring, management and mitigation can provide adequate safeguards to minimise any negative effects.
Timings – Beavers are protected year round, so a licence is always required to keep and transport beavers. In respect of ensuring minimal welfare impacts the beaver trapping, transporting and releases will take place outside of the kit dependency period (1st April to 16th August).
We have concluded that not granting a licence in this case would mean that beavers from existing conflict sites that could have been released on land owned and managed by Forestry and Land Scotland would as a result be released at other licenced sites in England and Wales or killed via lethal control licence and therefore lost to the Scottish wild beaver population; and that for the purpose of conserving wild beavers in Scotland there is no satisfactory alternative to granting a licence in this case.
Test 2 is passed, there is no satisfactory alternative.
Test 3 – Actions will not be detrimental to Favourable Conservation Status
Reinforcement of the Knapdale beaver population will contribute to improving population numbers, whilst contributing further genetic diversity to the resident animals which are already a mixture of Norweigan and Tayside (largely Bavarian origin). Release of beavers in Tay Forest Park will reinforce the local population and ensure that the genetic diversity from the translocated animals is not lost from the wider Tayside population. The proposed action will not be detrimental to the maintenance (or restoration) of the population of beavers at a favourable conservation status in their natural range (regulation 44(3)(b) of The Habitats Regulations 1994.
We refer to the survey of the Tay and Forth catchments as evidence of the current Tayside population, noting it is now nearly two years since the survey was carried out and that the population has since spread further in some locations, although not within Tay Forest Park
The Knapdale Reinforcement Project report provides details of the most recent assessment of the population status with Knapdale.
The specific release site locations of have been confirmed by survey to be unoccupied by beavers and will be checked again prior to release.
On the genetic status of the population we refer to:
Campbell-Palmer, R., Senn, H., Girling, S., Pizzi, R., Elliott, M., Gaywood, M. & Rosell, F. (2020). Beaver genetic surveillance in Britain. Global Ecology and Conservation, 24, e01275.
Licensing test 3 is passed.
3.2 Assessment of proposal against Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations
NatureScot have assessed the benefits and risks of the proposal in line with the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations. We have also considered the practical aspects of the project feasibility and desirability.
NatureScot considers there will be benefits from reinforcing the wild beaver population in both locations in terms of population genetics and numbers. There are also likely to be local biodiversity benefits. The potential risks to nearby land use and amenity are considered to present a low risk of conflict occurring based on the existing experience of beavers in these locations; with the potential to use mitigation or species licensing to manage undesirable impacts should they occur.
Applications to release beavers to the wild in other locations in Scotland would be subject to the same decision process as guided by the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations.
3.2.1 Release location suitability
The Knapdale peninsula in mid-Argyll is bounded to the north by the Crinan Canal, the south by east and west Loch Tarbet, on the east by Loch Fyne and on the west by the Sound of Jura. The landform of the northern part of Knapdale Forest, is dominated by a unique landscape comprising a whole series of northeast – southwest aligned ridges (knaps) and small valleys (dales) which range in altitude from sea level to 276m. The western sea bound and central sections of Knapdale Forest where the beavers will be released are heavily bisected by the knaps and a series of sea and freshwater lochs. The freshwater bodies extend from small lochans up to 2km long lochs which are interconnected and drained by small burns and streams draining to the sea in a southern direction. The semi-natural vegetation of Knapdale in the late 19th century comprised a complex mosaic of broadleaf woodland dominated by abandoned oak coppice and small patches of improved grazing (and arable fields). The site has been notified as a SSSI and is part of a wider SAC (Taynish and Knapdale Woods) put forward for its oak woodland, freshwater loch, marsh fritillary butterfly Euphydryas aurinia and otter Lutra lutra interests. The area also lies within the North Knapdale National Scenic Area. Knapdale Forest is host to a breeding beaver population from 2009. This phase of releases would therefore act to augment the existing population, but will not be released into active territories. It is hoped that new releases will encourage animal movement and enhance connectivity.
The proposed release site within Tay Forest Park was a former conifer plantation, now managed for native woodland recovery. The only recorded animals in the area are at Dunalister Water. The field signs from Dunalister indicate little evidence spread or breeding and it is estimated that only a single adult remains from observations of the lodge summer in 2020. The applicant provided NatureScot with a beaver release feasibility proposal along with the application in August 2023 which detailed their assessment of the suitability of the site for beaver colonisation and potential impacts on neighbouring land. The report concludes that the proposed release sites constitute a highly suitable release site with low conflict. It is also surrounded by highly suitable habitat immediately downstream and throughout the wider catchment.
3.2.2 Assessment of potential impacts on designated sites
Impacts on the designated sites in the wider catchment have been assessed with respect to both the Tayside and the Knapdale beaver populations via appropriate assessment in relation to Regulation 48 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 as amended (Habitats Regulations Appraisal) in 2017.
The Knapdale release sites are located within the Taynish and Knapdale Woods SAC, Knapdale Woods SSSI, Knapdale Lochs SSSI and Knapdale Lochs SPA. The 2017 HRA is complemented for the other designated interests by information arising from the Scottish Beaver Trial - see Appendix 1, Table 1 of the Beavers in Scotland Report. Hence it has been possible to conclude that beavers have not had a detrinmental impact on the the SAC/ SSSI features.
Given the body of work that had gone before and the findings, the environmental monitoring and mitigation carried out during the Knapdale Reinforcement Project (2017-2020) was largely integrated with the ongoing operational inspections and checks carried out by Forestry and Land Scotland. This included checks of impacts on mapped lichen assemblages, assessment of deer impacts, checks for damming of lochs used by breeding divers. With the appropriate monitoring and mitigation in place, translocation of more beavers to Knapdale Forest will not adversely affect the integrity of the SAC.
The release site in Tay Forest Park is located 3km uphill from River Tay SAC, and is not used by salmon. Therefore the presence of beavers at the release site will not directly impact on the SAC. There are already beavers established in the nearest section of the River Tay SAC, therefore no additional monitoring is proposed.
3.2.3 Stakeholder engagement
The Scottish Code for Conservation Translocation sets out the expectation that those proposing a project will carry out a consultation that is proportionate to the project/ risk and will engage with those most likely to be affected by the proposal.
The sites identified in this licence application are within current beaver distribution. Stakeholder consultation and engagement has occurred over many years in these localities. Therefore, it has been agreed with NatureScot, that it would be proportionate to the risks for Forest and Land Scotland to inform neighbours and other relevant parties (e.g. fishing clubs or other tenants) of the intention to host beaver releases ahead of any releases, but that an extended period of engagement would not be necessary.
Knapdale – Beavers have been present within Knapdale forest since 2009, therefore experience of likely and realised management conflicts is known. To date these have been predominantly damming of smaller burns leading to forest track access issues. Overall management conflicts have been low and are not expected to rise significantly with additional animals. The local Forestry and Land Scotland team is well experienced in beaver management and monitoring for impacts.
Tay Forest Park - Beaver/s have been present here as a presumed single territory for many years. Points of conflict have not been reported to date, that is of course not to say none would arise should numbers increase. The heavily wooded and naturalised banks provide a suitable buffer and it is considered unlikely that significant land use conflict would arise. Some level of tree protection for ornamental and/or rarer mature specimens may be required by landowners. The NatureScot Mitigation Scheme will be available as it is in other areas to support and deliver management interventions where needed and these meet the scope of the scheme.
Damming impacts on fish passage, though often raised as a concern have been rare in the Tay catchment. NatureScot would expect to be alerted to these by fishing interests and dam mitigation would be sought to rectify any significant concerns.
In general, the most significant management consideration is more likely to be associated with connectivity to other beaver populations and ensuring a suitable number of animals are released as part of any ongoing translocation efforts to avoid a restricted genetic base and ensure mating opportunities.
On balance and taking account of the available mitigation and management options, we consider the potential impact of releasing beavers at sites in Knapdale forest and Tay Forest Park are outweighed by the likely benefits to the local beaver populations, to local biodiversity and as a further contribution to delivering beaver restoration in Scotland as set out in Scotland’s Beaver Strategy 2022.
3.3 Health screening and tagging
Pre-release health screening is carried out for the following purposes:
- to ensure individuals are suitable for release,
- that their welfare is not compromised, and
- to ensure individuals do not introduce a disease risk to wildlife, livestock or human health following release.
We have consulted with public health and veterinary experts and have prepared a health screening protocol. Compliance with this protocol is a condition of this licence. Any beavers released will also need to be PIT tagged to enable future identification, for example at post mortem.
It is a condition on the licence that Forestry and Land Scotland is required to monitor the occupancy of the beavers at the release sites following release to assess survival and whether new territories are established for a two year period post release. FLS are expected to continue to carry out regular checks of the mapped lichen assemblages as relates to the SSSI interests and to assess the need for further stand protection. FLS are expected to continue to regularly assess the level of deer impacts via herbivore impact assessment methods to inform deer management. Lastly FLS are expected to carry out timely checks for damming of lochs used by breeding divers.
Further releases at either location would be subject to a review following the initial releases.
4. The Legal Framework
Under regulation 39(3) of The Habitats Regulations 1994 it is an offence to possess or control wild beavers and to transport wild beavers in Scotland.
However, regulation 44 of The Habitats Regulations 1994 allows derogation from the offences contained in regulation 39, provided three tests are met:
- There must be a licensable purpose as listed in regulation 44(2) of The Habitats Regulations 1994.
- There must be no satisfactory alternative (regulation 44(3)(a) of The Habitats Regulations 1994).
- The action authorised will not be detrimental to the maintenance of the population of the species concerned at a favourable conservation status in their natural range (Regulation 44(3)(b) of The Habitats Regulations 1994).
Regulations 44A and 45 of The Habitats Regulations 1994 provides NatureScot with powers as to terms and conditions of any licence it may issue under regulation 44.
The possession, control and transport of beavers for this project is licensed under regulation 44 of The Habitats Regulations 1994.
Under section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) it is an offence to release, allow to escape from captivity or cause to be at a place outside the control of any person any animal species outside its native range (as defined in the Act) without a licence. ‘Former native’ species are considered to be ‘non-native species’ for the purposes of the Act. Beavers are considered a ‘former native’ species in Scotland.
However, section 16(4)(c) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) provides a derogation from the offence contained in section 14 if the introduction of such an animal is in accordance with the terms of a licence granted by NatureScot.
Section 16(5) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) provides NatureScot with general powers as to terms and conditions of any licence it may issue under section 16.
The release of beavers land owned and managed by Forestry and Land Scotland within Knapdale Forest and Tay Forest Park as part of a Forestry and Land Scotland beaver reinforcement project is licensed under section 16(4)(c) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).
If you already have a licence number, include it in the subject line of your email, or have it to hand when you call.