Licence Application 247610 - Possession, Control, Transport and Release of Eurasian Beavers at agreed sites within the Upper Spey Catchment in the Cairngorms National Park as part of the Cairngorms National Park Authority beaver reintroduction project.
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.
An application was received by NatureScot on 20th October 2023 for the release of Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) to agreed sites within the upper river Spey catchment as part of the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s beaver reintroduction project. The project aims to establish a self-sustaining population of beavers in suitable habitat within the upper Spey catchment. The initial application from the Park Authority is for the translocation of up to six beaver families from conflict sites to agreed sites within the upper river Spey catchment. Establishing a beaver population in the Spey catchment will increase the current range of beavers in Scotland as set out as a priority in the Scottish Beaver Strategy 2022 – 2045.
Beavers will be trapped following best practice under a separate licence, number 248144, 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 reintroduction 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 environmental benefits and conservation benefit from the restoration of beavers in Scotland.
The Park Authority have proposed beaver reintroduction to the National Park to provide numerous biodiversity and environmental benefits and to help meet wider habitat restoration goals. This includes improved ecological functionality through wetland creation and expansion, reconnecting the floodplain, water quality improvements and storage, flood attenuation and riparian woodland expansion and restoration. These actions are considered to help deliver the targets of the Cairngorms National Park Partnership Plan 2022 - 27 and Cairngorms Nature Action Plan 2019 – 24. The Park Authority also consider there will be benefits to local communities and to wider audiences in Scotland, increasing awareness of the role that beavers play in restoring ecological function, demonstrating approaches to living with beavers and benefiting from beaver presence for example by providing ecotourism opportunities.
NatureScot Licensing Officers have undertaken a full assessment of the proposal to relocate beavers to sites within Cairngorm National 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 reintroduce beavers to agreed sites within the upper Spey catchment in the Cairngorms National Park has been approved.
- The licence permits the release of up to six beaver families at the agreed sites in the first year, but also makes provision for additional beaver families to be released at other sites as part of a programme of releases over the next five years with a view to establishing a self-sustaining population. Hence the licence permits up to a total of 15 pairs of Eurasian beaver with dependent offspring (individuals may be released where appropriate, but not in the first year) over the five year licence. Further releases and release locations would be subject to approval by the NatureScot Licensing team.
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 Park Authority has applied for permission to possess (for the purpose of health screening only), transport and release beavers at agreed sites within the Cairngorm National 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 248144), and released at the agreed release sites within the Cairngorm National Park.
The activity is proposed for the principle purpose of conserving wild animals, with a view to reintroduce beavers and preserve 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 the release sites within the Cairngorms National Park 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 a very limited number of 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 whether or not to grant a licence for the possession, control, transport and release of beavers at the proposed release sites. The release of beavers to new catchments is part of the vision of Scotland’s Beaver Strategy and the Spey catchment has been identified as one of the most suitable catchments in Scotland for beaver restoration due the availability of suitable habitat. The risks and benefits of beaver release to the Spey catchment of a social, economic and environmental nature are considered further under section 3.2.
A robust survey and assessment of the likelihood of beavers naturally colonising river catchments within the Cairngorms National Park has been undertaken and demonstrated that given current population numbers and distribution of beavers from the nearest known populations catchments, it is highly unlikely without assistance via proactive translocations. Natural colonisation into the Cairngorms National Park would be very challenging from the Tay catchment given numerous artificial structures restricting connectivity and the large areas of unsuitable habitat between catchments.
NatureScot considers Scotland’s beaver population will be enhanced by establishing a new population on the river Spey. The proposed release sites have been assessed and are considered highly 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. It is recognised that beavers are a valuable key stone species and will bring positive biodiversity and ecosystem beavers to the catchment.
Timings – Beavers are protected year round, so a licence will always be required to possess, control, transport and release. To ensure minimal welfare impacts; beaver trapping, transportation and release will take place out with 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 within the Cairngorm National Park would as a result be released at other 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
The reintroduction of beaver within the Cairngorm National Park will contribute to improving the overall status of the beaver population within Scotland, in terms of both numbers and genetic diversity. The Scottish Government has stated its strong determination to see more beavers translocated within Scotland to directly reduce cull figures. The use of lethal control is of significant public concern and alternative solutions, such as translocations, should be applied to ensure healthy beaver populations.
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.
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.
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.
A summary of the characteristics of the river Spey catchment and its suitability for beavers is provided in the Environmental Report (section 2) produced to consider the effect of beaver releases in this catchment. The report notes that parts of the river Spey catchment has long been identified as being one of, if not the most suitable location for beaver releases in terms of the species requirements. There are currently no wild beavers in the River Spey catchment.
The River Spey catchment is estimated to have 7,085 ha of ‘Potential Core Beaver Woodland’ comprised of largely broadleaved woodland and scrub within 50m of freshwater edge, with a gradient of <15% in non-tidal areas. However, other areas of habitat may used by beavers on a more temporary basis. The most suitable habitat for beavers is the network of lochans and wetland environments largely in the upper Spey catchment.
The first suite of releases sites have undergone detailed assessments of suitability by beaver specialists. The prospect of beavers establishing at the release sites, at least initially, is increased by there being good availability of suitable habitat and overwinter forage in particular, stable water levels and banks that are suitable for the construction places of shelter. All sites offer some physical containment but are associated with the wider flood plain and beavers would have the capacity to disperse and exercise habitat selection throughout the wider catchment. Consideration of the composition of the founder population with a view to promoting genetic diversity of the establishing population will also be important.
Impacts on the designated sites in the wider catchment have been assessed with respect to agreed release sites within the Cairngorm National Park via appropriate assessment in relation to Regulation 48 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 as amended (Habitats Regulations Appraisal).
The HRA concludes that 'with the appropriate mitigation in place beaver translocations to the River Spey catchment will not adversely affect the integrity of a European site. However there needs to be certainty that this mitigation can be implemented and secured before any licence to translocate beavers to areas within the River Spey catchment is granted. This should be detailed within a Beaver Management Plan, that should also identify the party responsible for carrying out any monitoring or implementing any management measures, and considered as part of the consenting process for any application to translocate beavers to the River Spey catchment.'
NatureScot licensing have noted this requirement and are content that the Monitoring and Mitigation Plan submitted by the Park Authority provides an appropriate management plan and sets out how it will be practically resourced and delivered. Following the actions set out in this plan is a condition of the release licence.
The first suite of agreed releases sites are located within or close to a number of designated sites, these include: Insh Marshes Special Area of Conservation, Insh Marshes National Nature Reserve, River Spey - Insh Marshes Site of Special Scientific Interest, River Spey - Insh Marshes RAMSAR, Cairngorms Special Protection Area; North Rothiemurchus Pinewood SSSI; Cairngorms Special Area of Conservation and Alvie Site of Special Scientific Interest. Naturescot have issued consents for the release of beavers on the relevant Sites of Scientific Interest.
Impacts on conservation interests in the wider catchment have been assessed through Strategic Environmental Assessments SEA and are included in the Monitoring and Mitigation Plan.
The Environmental Report systematically assessed the likelihood and significance of beaver effects in the river Spey catchment. This includes to biodiversity, to water resources, to population and human health, to cultural heritage, to material assets (including agriculture, forestry, fisheries) and to infrasture.
The range of ecosystem benefits are considered difficult to quantify, but are considered to be highly significant and positive reflecting the extent of suitable habitat and potential for further habitat restoration in the upper Spey catchment in particular.
The potential for negative impacts are recognised particularly to agriculture, forestry and infrastructure. The scale of anticipated negative impacts given the land use and topography are considered to be contained largely to the floodplain. The experience of management and mitigation from Tayside, supports that negative impacts that do arise can largely be mitigated; and we note the Park Authority have made additional provision for this.
The ER report was subject to public consultation that generated a relatively low number of responses. We have not amended the text of the Environmental Report as published in June 2023 as the conclusions of the report would not be substantively altered by the comments received. However, there are helpful contributions and we have set out in the post adoption statement how we will take them into account in decisions regarding beaver release licences in this catchment. A key part of this relates to having a proportionate Monitoring and Mitigation plan in place prior to issuing a licence.
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.
Through the Cairngorms Beaver Group, the Park Authority worked with key stakeholders to develop the proposal. The group was established in 2017 to advise and plan for the arrival of beavers to the National Park. It included representatives from a wide range of sectors including; land management, conservation bodies, fisheries and farmers.
The Park Authority have published the report on the engagement carried out informally since March 2023 and formally between 10th August and the application being submitted on 20th October. Subsequent to this, NatureScot are aware there have been further engagement with specific groups of stakeholders and at locations in the lower Spey catchment outwith the National Park.
The report illustrates that the Park Authority have made extensive efforts to provide opportunities for anyone with an interest to discuss the proposals with Park staff, make them aware of their views and any concerns.
Broadly the engagement report suggests that whilst there is a tendency for those with most interest in wildlife and recreation in the park to respond, there is public support for the proposal with comments reflecting the biodiversity benefits, the benefits for climate mitigation and for ecotourism. Those most opposed to or with concerns regarding the proposal to beaver releases in the National Park were from the land management and fishing sectors. The responses suggest there is a lack of confidence in the Beaver Management Framework to address the land management conflicts that may arise. Four formal objections to the project were received outwith the online survey, all raising concerns about farming and crofting interest.
The Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations recognises that the process of engagement should be iterative. The National Park as applicants, have responded to issues raised through their engagement and have updated the information available to stakeholders accordingly.
The key issues highlighted by the engagement are considered to be the concerns of farmers and crofters regarding the potential impact of beavers on agricultural land in the floodplain, both from damming of drainage ditches and the potential for beavers to damage flood banks. They also expressed concerns about the adequacy of resourcing for mitigation through the Scottish Beaver Mitigation Scheme and more generally in terms the additional costs to land managers from monitoring and management. For example, the time required to monitor ditches for the presence of beaver dams and where necessary, dam removal (including under licence). There were also questions raised about the longevity and extent of Park Authority support for land managers outwith the National Park. Some correspondence requested that beavers be excluded from specific areas of floodplain in the catchment.
NatureScot can clarify that once released beavers will be considered wild animals within the Spey catchment and will be afforded European Protected Species status. As such we will need to ensure the population is maintained in Favourable Conservation status, including at a local level. Beaver exclusion on main river systems such as they Spey is not feasible whilst at the same time maintaining a population in the wider catchment. Hence the approach as for other areas, will be to utilise the Beaver Management Framework to address any significant negative impacts that arise. Where mitigation is not possible, protected species licensing may be used subject to meeting the three licensing tests (that there is a licensable purpose, that there is no satisfactory alternative and that the actions will not be detrimental to maintaining the species in Favourable Conservation Status). There may be some anticipated need for beaver licensing to prevent serious agricultural impacts, but these would be expected to limited in number and geographically relating to the topography and types farming and crofting in much of the catchment. However, the facility of species licensing is there to prevent serious damage and preserve public safety if required.
Further to the engagement carried out, the Park Authority have submitted a detailed Monitoring and Mitigation Plan setting out how the risks identified will be monitored and where necessary what actions will be taken and by whom. As part of this the Park Authority have given further financial commitment that they will cover costs of mitigation and or repair to flood banks that were in good condition and where damaged can be attributed to beaver, and will review this commitment once a new rural support scheme is in place. Work is ongoing to explore the inclusion of financial support for land managers delivering a range of environmental benefits in future rural support payments including options for adopting natural flood plain management approaches. The Park Authority have also committed to regular monitoring of high-impact sites. We consider these mitigations combined with the existing Beaver Management Framework provide adequate safeguards that land managers and local communities will not be adversely affected by beaver releases, though some adjustments to living with beavers will be necessary.
On balance and taking account of the available mitigation and management options, we consider the any potential negative impacts of releasing beavers at sites within the Cairngorm National Park are outweighed by the likely benefits to biodiversity and the delivery of a range of ecological services within the River Spey catchment and as a significant contribution to beaver restoration in Scotland.
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 the Park Authority is required to monitor the occupancy of the beavers post-release and that this pattern of occupancy will inform the aspects of the Monitoring and Mitigation Plan that need to be implemented. The licence holder must use field signs or trail cameras to record and monitor beaver individuals or families and report them to NatureScot at six monthly intervals for a five year post release period.
Further release sites within the Cairngorm National Park will be subject to approval by NatureScot Licensing team.
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 to agreed sites within the Upper Spey Catchment in the Cairngorms National Park as part of the Cairngorms National Park Authority beaver reintroduction project is licensed under section 16(4)(c) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).