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 Conservtion Translocation have been considered;
- Detals 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 11 June 2021 for the release of Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) into up to four potential release ponds at Argaty, Doune. Argaty is on the edge of the current beaver range and the application aims to reinforce the local population. Beavers will be trapped following best practice under a separate licence and will be health screened before being transported to Argaty for release. All beavers trapped 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 lethal control at sites where mitigation measures are not feasible or have not been successful in resolving the human-beaver conflict and is proposed as an action that will bring benefits to the beaver population.
2. Our final decision
NatureScot Licensing Officers have undertaken a full assessment of the proposal to relocate beavers to Argaty. 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 to Argaty has been approved.
- Three release sites at Argaty have been approved and beaver releases will be within the limits of each site’s capacity. Two of the sites are permitted for the release of one beaver family each and the third site is permitted for the release of one beaver pair. Further releases 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
The applicant has applied for permission to possess (for the purpose of health screening only), transport and release beavers at Argaty. The trapped beavers will be health screened and PIT tagged (Passive Integrated Transponders) and will then be transported to and released at Argaty, which is on the edge of the current beaver population range. The activity is proposed for the principle purpose of conserving wild animals, at sites where mitigation measures are not feasible or have not been successful in resolving human-beaver conflict; and with a view to reinforcing the local and national beaver population. It will also have the secondary purpose of establishing viewing facilities and educational opportunities to engage visitors and the local community, in demonstrating ‘beaver benefits’ in terms of the ecosystem services they contribute in a Scottish context.
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 under 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).
- Science, research or education (secondary 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.
The trapping element of the project is covered by an existing licence to trap and translocate beavers to licensed projects, which to date have included Knapdale reinforcement and enclosure projects in England and Wales. This licence to trap beavers at licensed conflict sites remains active and there remains demand for beavers from these sites to move to licensed projects hence the consequences of trapping or not trapping these animals is not considered further in the consideration of alternatives.
There are currently no licensed release projects in Scotland. Hence the alternatives to consider in this case are simply whether or not to grant a licence for the possession, transport and release of beavers to Argaty.
NatureScot considers there will be benefits from a population and genetic viewpoint from reinforcing the beaver population in the Forth catchment which is likely to have a small number of founders.
Not granting a licence in this case would mean that beavers from conflict sites that could have been released at Argaty, would as a result be released at other sites in England and Wales and therefore be lost to the Scottish wild beaver population. On balance NatureScot considers that for the purpose of conserving wild beavers in Scotland there is not a satisfactory alternative to granting a licence in this case.
Test 2 is passed, there is no satisfactory alternative.
Test 3 - 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:
This licence application proposes to translocate beavers from areas of high conflict to an area with anticipated low conflicts. Argaty is on the edge of the current beaver range and reinforcement in this location will contribute to improving population numbers and genetic diversity and thereby the conservation status of the species in Scotland.
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 population
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 taking account of the likely colonisation of the watercourses in the release catchment in the next few years. We have also considered the practical aspects of the project feasibility and desirability.
NatureScot considers there will be benefits in the Forth catchment from reinforcing the local wild beaver population both in terms of and genetics and numbers. There are also likely to be local biodiversity and wider public benefits in terms of education and ecotourism. The potential risks to nearby land use and amenity are addressed in more detail in section 3.2.3 however, NatureScot consider the release of beavers at Argaty presents a low risk of conflict occurring; with the potential to use mitigation or species licensing to ameliorate 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
Argaty is located on the Braes of Doune in Central Scotland. The release area is a mix of grass parkland and Less Favoured Area, with 13 ponds and c.400 acres of woodland. Beavers are already present on the River Teith (6 miles from Argaty) and throughout the upper Forth catchment. The Ardoch, Argaty and Craigingilt Burns, which run through Argaty, are tributaries of the river Teith, and it is considered likely that beavers will arrive on these waterways through natural colonisation in the next few years.
The applicant provided NatureScot with a beaver release feasibility proposal prior to application in September 2020 which detailed their assessment of the suitability of the site for beaver colonisation and potential impacts on neighbouring land.
Following receipt of the licence application, our staff members carried out a site visit to Argaty on 17 August 2021 to undertake our own appraisal of the suitability for beaver release. The availability of food and shelter, connectivity to surrounding habitat and the number of beaver pairs/families which could establish at each release site were assessed. Out of the four proposed release sites, we consider three to be suitable for beaver establishment. Two of the proposed release sites were assessed to be suitable to sustain one beaver family each and one of the proposed release site was assessed to be suitable to sustain one beaver pair (i.e. it currently had less food resources available for over-wintering a large family group). We propose that the number of beavers released should initially be matched to capacity for occupancy to assess if beaver families do remain at Argaty and to allow any impacts on neighbouring properties to be assessed before further releases take place.
3.2.2 Assessment of potential impacts on designated sites
Argaty falls within the area assessed by the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to allow beavers to remain in Scotland. Potential impacts on other interests were assessed as part of this process.
Three designated sites are near to Argaty and have the potential to be impacted. The notified habitats at these sites are principally standing freshwater and wetland habitats and as per the SEA assessment, it's not anticipated that beavers would have a negative impact on these interests, though impacts should be monitored through regular site condition monitoring. The Ardoch Burn forms part of the River Teith SAC which has the qualifying interest Atlantic salmon, River lamprey, Brook lamprey and Sea lamprey.
Beavers are already present in the River Teith and potential impacts were assessed as part of the SEA. Details of the SEA and HRA (Habitats Regulations Assessments carried out by NatureScot) can be found in section 22.214.171.124 of the SEA. For all these species there is considered to be the potential for beavers to have an adverse effect on site integrity through dam building and related activities and hence the potential need for mitigation to ensure fish passage is noted. The SEA also notes potential benefits for freshwater fish species from beaver presence and this is a complex area that continues to be researched.
The Forth Rivers Trust were consulted by the applicant and considered on balance beavers would have a net positive impact on fish and are keen to collaborate on further research.
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 in genuine dialogue those most likely to be affected by the proposal.
In this case the applicant carried out a consultation with relevant stakeholders, including neighbouring landowners and local representatives of land management membership organisations (NFUS and SLE). The applicant also consulted with the Local Authority, the Community Council, the Forth Rivers Trust, with Forestry and Land Scotland and attempted to consult SEPA (who were not contactable at the time due to a cyber -security incident). The applicant also engaged with a wider group of local environmental and education groups including local schools. The applicant’s consultation identified supporting parties as well as noting the objections and concerns from properties neighbouring the potential release site and their representative organisations. Whilst the majority of consultation responses received by the applicant were very positive some concerns were noted and representation was also made directly to NatureScot regarding potential impacts on their properties and also regarding the consultation process.
Although not all issues were resolved to everyone’s satisfaction NatureScot consider the consultation was proportionate and attempted to discuss potential impacts and mitigation with those likely to be affected
Impacts on neighbouring properties
In response to concerns raised in the applicant’s consultation and directly to us, NatureScot engaged with neighbouring landowners through telephone conversations and by conducting our own site visits. The purpose of these discussions was to ensure we had a full understanding of the concerns and to discuss and assess potential beaver impacts on the neighbouring properties and to determine the extent to which mitigation or species licensing could effectively address any concerns should they arise. We were also keen to learn lessons about the consultation process.
We have taken all the comments received via the consultation documents and via our own engagement into account and have assessed the release of beavers at Argaty will present a low risk of conflict. The risk of serious agricultural damage is regarded as low as the land is not of the same capability (is not Prime Agricultural Land) and does not share the flat, low lying topography with areas that have experienced high beaver conflicts. However, we do recognise that there is the potential for beavers to cause localised flooding necessitating beaver mitigation or potentially the removal of dams under protected species licenses. We do not anticipate that licences which permit the use of lethal control will be required to address conflicts on neighbouring properties.
Other concerns raised by neighbouring landowners such as damage to parkland or heritage trees can be partly resolved through mitigation (e.g. the use of tree protection). It is appreciated that having beavers resident will likely bring additional management and time considerations for land managers, but these would likely have occurred in the next few years following a natural colonisation by beavers in the catchment. Through proactive engagement it should be possible to mitigate these impacts and the NatureScot Mitigation Scheme will be available to assist land managers in these instances.
The Mitigation Scheme will be available as it is in other areas to support and deliver management interventions where these meet the scope of the scheme.1 We recognise that not everyone will be pleased with this outcome and may consider the need for such management action an unwanted addition.
1The scheme looks to assist with the protection of high value trees of landscape, heritage or amenity value but does not to seek to protect all trees and woodland, which beavers depend on for forage.
Concerns were also expressed by local residents about potential risks to private water supplies. The Centre of Expertise on Animal Disease Outbreaks provided a view to Scottish Government in 2015 on the risk to water supplies from beavers and judged these to be very low to low (high uncertainty). We have discussed the release proposals with Drinking Water Quality Standards, the local Environmental Health Teams and Scottish Water and have proposed a risk based disease screening protocol to provide extra assurances around public health risks and have conditioned this on the licence.
On balance and taking account of the available mitigation and management options, we consider the potential impact of releasing beavers at Argaty on neighbouring land use is outweighed by the potential benefits to the beaver population, to local biodiversity and in demonstrating ‘beaver benefits’ in a Scottish context.
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 in order to monitor the occupancy of the beavers post-release, the licence holder must use fields signs or trail cameras to record occupancy of beaver individuals or families at the release sites and report them to NatureScot at 6 monthly intervals for the duration of the licence period. Further releases at Argaty 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 at Argaty is licensed under section 16(4)(c) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).