Victor Clements notes that we should soon learn what the Scottish Government would like to do with the Tayside beavers

Last winter an almighty row erupted when Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) announced that it wanted to capture and “relocate” the estimated 7- 20 beavers that it thought resided on Tayside.
SNH managed to catch one and let it die but, more significantly, it motivated a ferocious campaign to retain the animals. The capture was halted in March 2013 as the animals were by that time pregnant and ready to give birth.
In May last year, we got a new Environment Minister, Stewart Stevenson MSP. It became apparent that there were many more beavers than first thought, and the strength of local feeling forced SNH to take a step back in its approach. Indeed, at a National Species Re-introduction Forum meeting in June last year, it became clear that SNH would not commit to any particular course of action, preferring the Minister to make the decision.
The Minister received recommendations in September 2013, but has yet to act on them. His choices are to capture/cull the beavers, just let them roam, or tolerate and monitor them through to 2015 when the official re-introduction in Argyll will report. This last choice will most likely be the one that prevails. It is actually the most sensible for all involved and, politically, the choice in the middle is always the easiest.

Fence Sitting
However, the longer the Minister sits on the fence for no good reason, the more nervous people become. The pro-beaver people are starting to think he has some dastardly plan ready to be activated, possibly a ruthless and immediate cull of all the animals concerned. There are in fact up to 135 of them at present, way too many to capture and re-home. The anti- beaver people are starting to think the Minister cannot make a decision about anything, and their confidence in him is slipping away as well.
SNH is at present trying to count the beavers, but no-one is telling it where they are, and it does not really know where to start. Bizarrely, it has been mooted that a helicopter has been considered to help try and find them. Even an unmanned drone has been suggested! You can just see the cartoons already, and the legend of the Tay beavers can only grow if this tactic is adopted.

Culling Conundrum
The logic of the situation should be that SNH cannot cull the beavers if it cannot find them, and if it cannot cull them all, then there is no point in getting people’s backs up by culling any of them.
In the meantime, some useful work has been done examining EU derogations that would allow protected species to be managed in specific problem situations if the need to do so arises. This in itself will ease the fears in those who think beavers will be a threat to their livelihoods.  It is a very positive development.
My inclination is that the Minister will do the right thing and the beavers will be allowed to stay, but I wish I could be sure. If not, expect the fur to be flying again very shortly.

Victor Clements

 

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