From 1st May 2019 beavers are a European Protected Species and the populations in Tayside and Knapdale in Argyll will be allowed to expand naturally. Beavers are anticipated to bring many benefits to Scotland but it is also accepted that beavers and their activities will need to be managed in the situations where they have serious impacts on other interests.
An integral part of informing the success of allowing beavers to remain in Scotland and of developing approaches to living with them will be the survey, monitoring and research of the animals and their activities and impacts. This includes:
- Monitoring the population dynamics and conservation status of the existing populations in Knapdale and Tayside;
- Recording and assessing their longer term impacts (both positive and negative) and the effectiveness of mitigation measures, on both the natural heritage and other land uses;
- Development of tools that will help us respond to, and plan for, beaver-related issues; and
- Identifying opportunities that will help ecosystems benefit from the presence of beavers
This framework outlines the research, monitoring and survey requirements and approaches that will help take this forward. This will fulfil legal and policy obligations and provide an opportunity to take forward monitoring, survey and research which is tailored to the Scottish situation, and which creates opportunities for collaboration and application of innovative techniques.
The framework builds on the needs identified in the Beavers in Scotland Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The SEA enabled a clear audit of key receptors and identification of the priority monitoring requirements. It also takes into account the research, survey and monitoring recommendations set out in the SNH ‘Beavers in Scotland’ report to Scottish Government, and the reports of the Beaver-Salmonid Working Group and Tayside Beaver Study Group.
There are seven elements to the framework as follows. These are described in more detail in Annex 1;
- Beaver population monitoring
- Recording, monitoring and analysis of potential beaver damage and specialist advice
- Statutory monitoring of impacts on designated natural heritage features and Article 17 reporting
- Survey and monitoring of wider nature interests
- Research and monitoring of mitigation measures in land management and trialling innovative techniques
- Research – collaborate with research institutes to further understanding of beavers, and their ecosystem roles, in Scotland
- Monitoring of public perceptions and socio-economic considerations to re-establishment of beavers in Scotland.
Annex 1 – Survey Monitoring and Research Elements
Beaver population monitoring
We want to ensure that the two existing populations of beaver in Scotland expand in range and number. We need to be able to monitor these trends and make sure that management actions do not compromise these objectives. We have monitored the Tayside population in 2012 and 2018 and have a good understanding of the population in Knapdale. Future monitoring will be planned to supplement this and ensure that we have a good understanding of these changes so that we can adapt our approaches as necessary. This will include a repeat survey in 2022 to build on the existing suite of surveys. We will also explore both more novel approaches to take this forward in future (e.g. technologies using citizen science and eDNA).
Recording, monitoring and analysis of reports of beaver damage and specialist advice
We will ensure that we collate and analyse all reported incidents where beavers may be having negative impacts on other interests. This would include issues related to agriculture, fisheries, forestry, public and animal health, residential, social, economic, environmental, recreational and cultural heritage.
Collaboration will be sought with the appropriate bodies and representative groups as well as working with SEPA, Transport Scotland, Local Authorities, Scottish Water, and public health bodies etc. to help develop monitoring and mitigation proposals. This would allow us to improve our understanding of these impacts, where they might be predicted to occur in future, their costs and potential ways to avoid or mitigate them.
Statutory monitoring of impacts on designated natural heritage features and Article 17 reporting
Under the Habitats Directive we are obliged to undertake surveillance of the conservation status of the natural habitats and species listed on the annexes to the Directive. This includes the sites designated for these interests such as SACs and SPAs but we also monitor other sites such as SSSIs to ensure that their designated features are in favourable condition.
We have identified and prioritised particular designated sites and features for monitoring in the Strategic Environmental Assessment and Habitats Regulations Assessment. These sites and features may be negatively impacted by beavers and therefore may require a beaver mitigation plan. These are on sites which overlap with the zone of detailed appraisal (the ZDA). The ZDA consists of i) the Beaver Policy Area together with a further ‘buffer’ strip of land, a minimum of 10km, which beavers might be expected colonise in the next 10 to 12 years and ii) which are determined by the likely extent of habitat that may accommodate the establishment of beaver territories – identified as ‘potential core beaver woodland`. Those features within the ZDA which are not likely to be adversely affected by beavers overall, or where there is a neutral or positive impact, have been excluded from the monitoring requirements. These include most bryophytes, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. Opportunities will still be encouraged to research and monitor positive benefits to these groups.
Survey and monitoring of wider nature interests
In addition to designated site features, the SEA identified other wider countryside features where specific monitoring would be valuable. For those species and habitats of conservation interest in the wider countryside, there will be an ongoing need to assess data derived from general surveillance and monitoring activities that are already in place, and intervene with management if and when necessary. We will encourage a citizen science approach and use of social media Apps as well as collaborate with relevant interest groups, to promote survey by their members of some of the interests identified below.
The wider countryside species and habitats identified include:
- River jelly lichen
- Habitat of invertebrates: dragonflies and flies
- Woodland habitats of bryophytes, lichens and fungi
- American mink
- Water vole
- Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS)
- Lowland lochs and wetlands
- Great crested newts
Research and monitoring of mitigation measures in land management and trialling innovative techniques
To supplement evidence from European techniques and trials conducted by the Tayside Beaver Study Group, further trials will be undertaken in Tayside and Knapdale in partnership with land and fisheries managers to establish the effectiveness of electric fencing, “swept wing fences” on water courses, flow devices in dams, soft riverbank engineering preventing burrowing into river banks and flood defences and fish pass design. These may be taken forward through the Scottish Beaver Mitigation Scheme and the effectiveness of the trials will be monitored and used as case study examples in guidance and will enable feedback so that we can adapt our approach in light of experience. Technical sub-groups will be formed to help develop new approaches to mitigation but also to ensure that we can monitor their success and learn from them.
Research – collaborate with research institutes to further understanding of beavers, and their ecosystem roles, in Scotland
SNH will work with research institutes to take forward opportunities to improve our understanding of all aspects of beaver ecology and impacts in Scotland and building on other aspects of this framework. This will include identifying emerging themes arising from other research and monitoring and of the experiences of stakeholders across Scotland. This may also arise from discussion within and outside the Scottish Beaver Forum and from Technical Groups set up to look at particular issues.
SNH will work with research partners to further develop and refine geospatial and modelling tools to help predict beaver habitat use, population expansion and re-colonisation and interaction with land uses.
We will also work with key partners to identify research needs and develop a programme of work and identify opportunities for taking it forward. These will focus on key topics such as beavers and salmonids, interactions with deer and impact on woodland regeneration, beavers and their role in natural flood management and the efficiency of beaver management techniques.
Monitoring of public perceptions and socio-economic considerations to re-establishment of beavers in Scotland
As well as monitoring beavers and their impacts we would also like to explore opportunities for monitoring people’s perceptions and experience of beavers in Scotland as their populations grow. Beaver activities can have a wide range of socio-economic implications for the ‘human environment’, positive and negative. Many of the negative aspects will be covered in the other elements of this framework, so there is also a need to identify what positive aspects people value. For example, they are likely to provide cultural ecosystem services, sometimes with discernible monetary benefits such as recreation, educational value and volunteering. Such information can help identify how these can be designed to benefit local communities and the wider public.
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