Scottish Beaver Advisory Group Meeting - 18th January 2023
Rowan Room, Battleby
Wednesday 18th January 2023, 1030 - 1300
- Chair: Donald Fraser (NatureScot)
- April Armstrong (Confor)
- Doreen Bell (Scottish Water)
- Jenny Bryce (NatureScot)
- Hazel Forrest (representing Scottish Environment Link)
- Simon Jones (representing the National Parks)
- James Nairn (representing Scottish Rewilding Alliance)
- Ann-Marie MacMaster (NatureScot) – minutes
- Kate Maitland (National Farmers Union Scotland)
- Scot Mathieson (Scottish Environment Protection Agency)
- Karen Ramoo (Scottish Land & Estates)
- Helen Taylor (Royal Zoological Society of Scotland)
- Juli Titherington (Scottish Forestry)
- Sam Turner (Scottish Government)
- Alan Wells (Fisheries Management Scotland)
Apologies: Rachel Helliwell – (Centre of Expertise for Waters); Roisin Campbell Palmer (Beaver Trust) and Kenny Kortland – (Forestry and Land Scotland).
1. Governance - Confirmation of Terms of Reference and identify a Chair
The Group confirmed they are happy with Terms of Reference, dated 02/06/2022 which had been discussed in some detail during the strategy development.
NatureScot (NS) will provide Secretariat and will Chair today’s meeting. It was noted a COSLA representative had not yet been identified and apologies were also noted.
The ToR propose that an independent chair be appointed. A number of nominations had been sent to NatureScot. Some members viewed that NatureScot could fulfil this role as they do in other Fora, others were keen for the Chair to be independent.
AP1 – SLE and NFUS, who had advocated an independent chair, were to check their position with regards the proposed NatureScot chair, with their respective organisations.
The group discussed ways of working particularly around communications with a view to building trust. There was a general principle that discussions should be open and transparent: that papers shared with the group should clearly indicate whether they can be shared beyond the group (noting that some members are representing a wider group of organisations and will want to share information where possible). Any sensitive or confidential issues raised in the meeting must be highlighted at the time. In the event of any joint press releases, these should be signed off by all members; members will respect embargos.
AP2 – NatureScot to make two amendments to the ToR (Communications section) to include these ways of working and to clarify the role of the Chair; and to recirculate the amended ToR
AP3 – NatureScot to follow up on a COSLA representative
2. Strategy priorities, Action plan and Working Groups
Recognising that Scotland’s Beaver Strategy is broad ranging with many actions and that resources are limited, the need to prioritise was noted. The need to align with other strategies and policy areas was also recognised e.g. Scottish Biodiversity Strategy, Wild Salmon Strategy, Programme for Government Riparian Woodland targets. It was noted that members of this group can help facilitate this alignment.
Recognising the wide range of actions, it was proposed that reporting should be based on a Highlight report at the level of the 9 goals (listed on page 23 of the Strategy). Behind this would need to sit more detailed reporting at the level of the actions; noting which actions are currently being progressed and which ones are for later in the implementation plan. NatureScot will undertake to produce these reports and present updates on progress to the SBAG quarterly meetings.
Members of the group suggested the following aspects of the strategy as priorities:
Guidance on translocations
- All want to see consultations working well, given adequate timescales, for there to be objective and clear information available –concern was expressed that this had not always been the case to date, for example with regard to District Salmon Fisheries Boards.
- Greater promotion of translocation benefits (sites) so there is greater understanding of the rationale for beaver restoration
- The level of engagement required should not be prohibitive for landowners with smaller land holdings who may wish to have beavers on their land, but must ensure that appropriate consultation with all relevant interests takes place
- The process should be proportionate to make within-range translocations straightforward
- Mapping information should be made available to highlight infrastructure, culverts and fish passes that may be impacted by translocations
- Information on beaver presence and upcoming translocation proposals should be readily available to enable timely inputs to engagement
- Consideration of interactions with woodland creation initiatives
- Recognition of the practical and financial impacts of translocations for land managers
- The desire to see an increase in the proportion of animals trapped and translocated rather than killed and an increase in the number of licenced release projects in Scotland able to take beavers
- Consideration of genetics, health and welfare in translocations
- Trialling and innovation of new techniques
- Evidence-based guidance and grants
- Greater clarity and communication with landowners regarding the support available
- More guidance available on managing beavers and mitigation approaches
- Clarity around the resources available to promote and protect riparian woodlands
- Need to review the current ‘working groups’ associated with the Beaver Forum. Need for a group to progress beaver-fish interactions, with members to include public and private interests.
- Creation of a hub/website for Scotland’s beaver Strategy related research and information.
It was noted, new Beavers in Scotland translocation guidance had been produced with the aim of clarifying expectations for applicants and consultees
AP4 – All to review the translocation guidance and make suggestions where additional guidance is required
AP 5 – NatureScot to produce a spreadsheet of Scotland’s Beaver Strategy goals, actions and status and cross reference this with the suggested priorities above.
3. Update - NatureScot (mitigation, translocation and projects)
- There continues to be a steady flow of mitigation casework; some in new beaver areas, some recurring cases (mitigation maintenance), some long-running cases. NatureScot now have 3 full time staff on the Beaver (Mitigation) Team with additional assistance from other teams. The scheme is operating within budget.
- A summary of mitigation approaches was produced for the SEA Addendum.
- Further updates to the NatureScot mitigation web-pages were planned (now completed) to make the information clearer and easier to find.
- NatureScot will provide a summary of mitigation casework in the annual beaver management report planned for later in 2023.
- NS have prepared guidance for applicants, consultees and interested parties to clarify the process and expectations.
- NatureScot have produced a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) addendum which updates the 2017 report, including what has been learned since then about living with beavers. It also includes a national spatial analysis of considerations for all mainland river catchments. It is intended that this information be used to inform the suitability of translocations in new catchments.
- NatureScot have been supporting the application process where there is known interest that aligns with the priorities outlined in the national spatial analysis;
- For Loch Lomond (and the Forth) NatureScot have consulted on an Environmental Report, and have carried out Habitats Regulations Assessments of impacts on Natura sites; have produced a suite of protocols on handling and captive care, disease screening and post-release monitoring of beavers and of wider interests. It was noted that, in the case of fish and fisheries, that mitigation and management would be required to ensure there will be no adverse effects and that this work will need be supported.
- NatureScot have engaged with Trees for Life who have been engaging with the local community with regards beaver translocation proposals in the Beauly catchment and have been working with the Cairngorms National Park Authority who are considering proposals for the Spey.
- NatureScot have been exploring opportunities for translocations on public land with other public bodies.
- NatureScot have also been working with licence holders and the Beaver Trust to facilitate trapping beavers where possible, rather than shooting.
- The trialling of ‘water gates’ as a means of excluding beavers from conflict areas has been a long running project; complicated by the need to ensure that water gate installation will not impede fish passage. Water gates are a novel approach and are not used internationally. It is anticipated that beaver exclusion would only be appropriate in a very limited set of circumstances. Three water gate projects are currently being explored, two of which could still go ahead this financial year subject to fish survey results.
- CivTec is a Scottish Government initiative bringing together public sector challenges with private innovators. The current challenge NatureScot have raised is to seek solutions to allow beaver burrows to be detected and to assess the associated risks. NatureScot have progressed to field trials with one company using sonar scanning of river banks. This work is ongoing.
- Burrowing pilot – NatureScot arranged for the River Restoration Centre (RRS) to visit a cluster of farms on the Rivers Isla and Ericht in 2022, specifically looking at the issues around beaver burrowing. RRC produced a report with recommendations including for flood bank realignment. NatureScot have been exploring how to fund this work as a pilot, which will deliver a range of environmental benefits. An application made to the Nature Restoration Fund for development funding was unsuccessful. NatureScot have been encouraged to re-submit an application but NRF are looking for evidence of a better developed project partnership rather than NatureScot being the sole lead. NFUS clarified that they would want to see inclusion of compensation for the land forgone in such a project. This is not an eligible cost under NRF. Suggestions for other avenues for developing such a pilot were welcomed.
- Partnership project with UHI – NatureScot are currently working with UHI on a number of work areas including eDNA beaver surveys, quantification of beaver induced physical processes and the social and cultural perceptions of beavers.
- As a continuation of population and habitat modelling work, NatureScot has been working with Natural England, the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, the University of Newcastle and the University of Exeter to develop a UK-wide beaver habitat mapping layer and population modelling tools to allow the exploration of beaver release and potentially management scenarios.
- Beaver impacts on riparian woodland creation – NatureScot with Scottish Forestry, plan to commission a short project to gather information on the new planting sites in Scotland that overlap with beaver territories to review the nature and scale of impacts. In addition, NatureScot plan to review international experience of woodland creation in the presence of beavers with a view to informing riparian woodland design guidance. Members requested the need for clarity on the implications of beaver impacts on woodland creation schemes/grants and any associated liabilities for landowners.
There were previously three Technical sub-groups of the Scottish Beaver Forum that focused on;
- Riparian woodlands
- Environmental Support
Although NatureScot are continuing to progress work on these themes involving a range of other stakeholders, the groups have not met for some time.
AP 6 - NatureScot to circulate the ToR for the technical sub-groups from the Scottish Beaver Forum. NatureScot will revisit the ToR and consider whether they should be reconvened or reformulated as task and end groups. The addition of a research group was an action in the strategy.
AP7 – FMS to prepare a draft remit for a beaver- fish working group
Beaver Welfare: Animal Welfare Commission Report (December 2022)
The Scottish Animal Welfare Commission published a report in December 2022 on the welfare of beavers in Scotland. Both Scottish Government and NatureScot will respond to the recommendations, before next SBAG meeting.
5. Date of next meeting
This group will meet quarterly, with the next meeting to take place in latter half of April.
AP8 - Doodle poll to be circulated for meeting dates for remainder of year.
If you already have a licence number, include it in the subject line of your email, or have it to hand when you call.