VICTOR CLEMENTS provides a personal opinion on how habitat management payments might best be delivered

During a beaver study tour to Bavaria last autumn, consideration was given as to what sort of grant scheme would be suited to encourage or reward the creation of beaver habitat in Scotland. Currently, the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) is the main source of grant funding, although limited funding is also available from SNH or SEPA.
A funding mechanism for beaver management in Scotland would have three main strands:
BeaverandkitWeb•  A compensation fund to cover loss of crops and damage to machinery or infra-structure. It is anticipated that such provision would work on a similar basis to that in Bavaria, with claims being paid annually at an intervention rate of 75 or 80%.
•  A means of paying annual management payments for habitat created
•  In any given situation, over and above such provision, advice and technical input will be required, and the capacity for delivering this will have to be developed independently of whatever grant funding mechanism is in place.

SRDP or No?
It is easy to see why beaver habitat creation/ management would create difficulties within SRDP.
In the normal course of events, an SRDP application involves the applicant setting out how much habitat is going to be created and where but it is rarely possible to anticipate when beavers might arrive in an area, or what area they will impact on when they do.
Typically, an initial area of perhaps a few hectares will expand as a family grows, and beavers can create a series of dams to allow access to areas that might not have been anticipated at the outset. Within a 5-10 year period therefore, a beaver impacted area will grow at a rate determined by the beaver, not the SRDP contract, and the bureaucracy of dealing with this is unlikely to be practicable within the current system. Over and above this, beavers may create habitat quickly and without warning, and applications would have to be submitted in retrospect.
A 5 or 10 year contract would be unlikely to persuade a farmer to retain habitat created, especially as it would be very difficult to reverse the changes made at a later date.
I am now certainly of the opinion that SRDP is not the best vehicle for awarding or compensating farmers for retaining beaver created habitat.

An Alternative
In many local authority areas in Bavaria, housing developers are required to create natural habitats to compensate for the equivalent area given over to development. Typically, they fund the purchase of beaver- created habitat, which is then owned by the local authority.
Purchase of land in this manner is very unlikely to be applicable in Scotland. However, it may well be possible that a local authority, NGO or possibly SEPA could administer a simple scheme whereby development money could be used to pay annual management payments to farmers for a 25 year period, as mitigation against other land being developed.
All beaver created habitat within a defined administrative area would be mapped on an annual basis, and the co-ordinating organization would ensure that sufficient income was available to pay for this area from development within that area. The developer would have a 25 year contract with the co-ordinating body, at which point his commitment would be spent. The farmer would have an ongoing contract with the co-ordinating body, renewed at the 25 year mark, to ensure on going commitment to the retention of that habitat.
This sort of arrangement would be a significant change from the normal way in which we grant aid habitat creation in Scotland, but it would allow for the flexibility required, and the sums of money involved would be affordable for developers. Almost certainly, they would view it as a PR opportunity to demonstrate their green credentials.

Could we make such a system work here?
It is very unlikely that farmers would sanction the reintroduction of beavers on a more widespread basis until they were comfortable with how such habitat schemes would work in practice. This was one of the key messages we took from Bavaria. The system of management has to be in place in advance. We should be starting to think about these things now.


Victor Clements is a woodland advisor working in Highland Perthshire.

 

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