Interim guidance on NatureScot support for and assessment of beaver translocation projects
In November 2021 Scottish Government announced a change in policy; actively promoting translocation to support the expansion of the beaver population; to help them establish a presence in areas of Scotland outside their current range, beyond where natural expansion would be expected to reach in the short term.
This announcement is expected to enable greater benefits of beavers to be realised; with beavers being a catalyst for nature restoration and delivering a range of ecosystem services as part of our response to the current nature and climate crises.
This document aims to set out NatureScot’s proposed approach to support and implement this policy direction.
To date NatureScot has been working with licence holders in conflict areas to facilitate trapping and translocation, with beavers being moved to Knapdale, Argaty and to enclosed and unenclosed projects in England and Wales. The change in policy enables animals from conflict areas to be trapped and moved to other parts of Scotland where they are expected to deliver ecosystem benefits. Over the coming months, the detailed guidance on translocations on our website will be reviewed and enhanced to provide clear guidance to those seeking to submit translocation proposals and for consultees that may be affected by such proposals to ensure we receive well-considered applications with meaningful engagement with interested parties.
Developing a National Beaver Strategy
The process for developing a National Beaver Strategy has recently begun with the aim that it will help to inform future actions and how resources are directed. The Strategy is being co-produced by a wide range of stakeholders. It is anticipated the Strategy will provide a high level vision for Beavers in Scotland by 2045 and outline the key actions required to deliver this Strategy. The Strategy is unlikely to provide a blueprint for beaver translocations, but will identify opportunities, risks and constraints for beaver restoration in new catchments. Having a Strategy also presents the opportunity to plan ahead with habitat enhancement, the naturalisation of rivers or riparian woodland planting to improve habitat suitability ahead of beavers arriving or to consider the management requirements as beavers move into new areas. The Strategy process is expected to conclude by summer 2022.
Beaver Management Framework
The Beaver Management Framework comprises the suite of policy and guidance currently in operation to secure the ecological benefits of beavers and allow their impacts on other interests to be managed. This includes the policy on translocations, the provision of a beaver mitigation scheme, species licensing arrangements and the survey, monitoring and research strategy. This framework is the operational guidance that will continue to sit under the new National Beaver Strategy. Following the change in translocation policy we will review all these documents in early 2022 to make sure the suite is up to date and reflects the current policy position. We will keep the framework guidance under review to ensure it provides the necessary framework for managing beavers as they move into new areas either naturally or via translocations.
What will happen now?
NatureScot will not assess applications for translocations into new catchments until after the National Beaver Strategy process has concluded this summer. Early engagement with stakeholders and site assessments in these new areas could of course commence before this time.
NatureScot will be seeking applications of a more strategic nature for proposed releases into new catchments informed by the National Beaver Strategy, rather than from small isolated landholdings. When considering releases into new catchments, the assessment of risks and benefits will need to be at a whole or sub-catchment scale, rather than being specific to the land holding where they are released.
Previously commissioned studies have highlighted some of the catchments that are likely to feature highly in terms of habitat suitability for beavers (see Beavers in Scotland Report - Section 3.2 page 26). NatureScot plans to engage with other public agencies and carry out some further scoping of these areas in parallel to the National Beaver Strategy development in anticipation that they are likely to feature in translocation proposals. Initially, we will focus on a few catchments e.g. the Spey and Beauly*. NatureScot will look to support the regulatory assessments that would be required to underpin proposals for releases in these catchments.
There are immediate opportunities for projects to be developed within and on the edge of the existing range’ and for which strategic assessments of impacts are already in place. NatureScot aims to work with public agencies and other land management organisations to explore if there are suitable land holdings where proposals could be developed and consulted on that are not dependent on the outcomes of the National Beaver Strategy and hence could start sooner. These could be intended to reinforce existing populations, create a bridging population into Knapdale or to assist colonisation where artificial barriers have prevented dispersal.
All beaver reintroductions will need to be carefully considered and planned, and involve local communities and stakeholders. A process of local engagement and consultation will be required in all cases. The policy change brings with it the potential for beavers to act as a catalyst for environmental and socio-economic benefit across a wider part of Scotland. We would encourage translocation projects to consider how such benefits can be realised and shared with the wider community.
* The Spey reflecting the availability of potential core habitat (see Beavers in Scotland Report) and the in the case of Beauly, habitat availability combined with there already being wild living beavers present. Hence this initial selection is not based on a comprehensive ranking of reintroduction sites which would need to examine a range of criteria.
It remains an offence for beavers to be released without a licence. Translocation projects will need to apply for and be issued with a licence to possess, transport and release beavers. They are also expected to follow the best practice guidance set out in The Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations (SCCT), which are based on the IUCN Guidelines for Reintroductions and other Conservation Translocations. This approach is designed to maximise the likelihood of project success, and to minimise risks and the likelihood of project failure.
The sourcing of beavers for translocation projects is covered by a separate licence, in most cases held by a land manager experiencing land use conflict and where beaver removal under licence has been approved to prevent serious damage.
We anticipate there will continue to be requests for licences to remove beavers to prevent serious damage. We expect there will still be instances where trapping cannot be used and lethal control may still be necessary as a last resort, however, we would like to see the proportion that is controlled, as opposed to translocated, being significantly reduced. We will work with land managers and trappers to offer this as a practical alternative. To ensure trapping is straightforward we will take steps to remove barriers which may have to date precluded this approach.
There are also a growing number of land managers who have requested the use of trapping that would not wish to use lethal control. In such cases, where we are satisfied that the licensing tests to permit removal have been met, we have permitted trapping under the licence held by a specialist beaver consultant.
Process for considering translocation projects
Once a National Beaver Strategy is agreed it is envisaged that proposals should be informed by this strategic guidance. However, it is still anticipated that land managers/management organisations will approach NatureScot with translocation proposals. Applicants would be expected to prepare an application guided by the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations (SCCT). NatureScot would welcome discussion of proposals at an early stage to avoid investing resources in projects that are unlikely to be successful.
Whilst we aim to review and streamline the application process, the necessary process of considering the suitability of the release site as well as engaging and consulting with local communities and land managers prior to approving projects, should not be underestimated. Projects are far more likely to succeed and benefits realised, in ecological and social terms, if local people are involved and engaged.
NatureScot licensing team will assess the applications in our statutory role as licensing authority, which will include an assessment of the risks and benefits, a report on the public engagement, our own assessment of the adequacy of the engagement process, the potential for mitigation of highlighted risks and how the potential benefits can most effectively be realised.
Funding of translocation projects
Strategic assessments – NatureScot will support the scoping of releases into new catchments, we will prioritise these based on the developing National Beaver Strategy and initially on previously published research to establish beaver habitat suitability.
Preparation of an application - Those proposing a project are expected to carry out and pay for the scoping and engagement in support of a licence application. This may include: survey work to assess habitat suitability at the release site; the assessment of potential conflicts (e.g. with other protected species interests, land use or fisheries management interests, public access, amenity, heritage assets or infrastructure); preparing information on the proposals for consultees; organising public engagement meetings and engaging in genuine dialogue where potential concerns are highlighted.
Implementation phase - To help support this new policy NatureScot is proposing to offer assistance with funding the implementation phase, once applications have been approved. We feel this distinction helps separate our licensing role from our public delivery and advisory role. Hence NatureScot aims to provide funding to support the trapping, transport and captive holding, health screening and mitigation associated with beaver releases into new areas. We would like to see resources directed to those projects that will have the greatest ecological and socio-economic benefits and will prioritise our annual allocation of available funding to these projects.
There is currently only one licence holder that is permitted to trap beavers at conflict sites (n.b. the release would be covered by a separate licence issued to a translocation project). We anticipate working with experienced personnel to scale-up the trapping to meet the demand for beaver translocation projects that are approved in Scotland. We anticipate trapping will be staggered over time, partly due to the requirements for projects to be properly developed and approved and partly due to the temporal nature of trapping in conflict sites, and that this will allow the ‘supply and demand’ of beavers to be carefully managed. There are specialist skills and welfare considerations relating to the trapping and handling of beavers. We anticipate a small number of people being trained and co-ordinating this work, but would like to see and support and expansion of professional training in beaver ecology and management as their range expands. We will also look to work with captive holding facilities to ensure there is sufficient capacity to be able to cope with the demand for animals requiring health checks and any treatment prior to release.
- NatureScot has secured resources to expand our Beaver Team to co-ordinate our work in this area; to provide support to land managers experiencing conflicts and those wishing to translocate beavers.
- We will look to develop a Disease Risk Assessment protocol that can be adopted by all beaver translocation projects. This will require a degree of animal testing to provide assurances around public and animal health.
Mitigating impacts where necessary in new release areas
Part of our ambition is to identify areas where we anticipate that beavers will have the greatest benefits and will present a low risk of conflict (in its widest sense, to other interests), linked to a National Beaver Strategy. This is also an essential part of assessing a project under the SCCT. Hence we need to ensure that proposals coming forward would not lead to the same level of conflict as we have seen in the flat low lying areas of Prime Agricultural Land in parts of Tayside. However, it is inevitable that beavers will have impacts that are not considered to be desirable in other areas, whether felling trees, damming watercourses or burrowing into banks and built structures. NatureScot currently runs the Scottish Beaver Mitigation Scheme using staff and specialist consultants to provide advice and practical assistance to land and fisheries managers. We will extend this service where beavers are released into new areas and will undertake to pay for such works as is reasonably necessary to mitigate negative impacts. This service will not be limited to the immediate release site, but wherever beavers spread from newly established populations.