A legal challenge to stop beavers being legally killed has started.
Rewilding charity Trees for Life claims the Scottish Government’s agency NatureScot is breaking the law by failing to make the killing of the protected species a last resort.
It says NatureScot must consider moving beavers to areas of Scotland where they would be welcome and can help boost biodiversity, rather than issuing licences for them to be killed when they cause local damage to farmland.
The charity hopes a judicial review ruling in their favour could allow conservationists to identify suitable sites across Scotland where beavers could be moved – creating wildlife tourism opportunities, and preventing potential damage to farmland elsewhere.
A case will go ahead at the Scottish Court of Session in Edinburgh on June 3 and 4.
Chief executive of Trees for Life, Steve Micklewright, said: “A ruling in our favour could transform the fortunes of Scotland’s wild beavers.
“But whatever the legal outcome, this case is spotlighting glaring inconsistencies in the Government’s approach to protecting this still-fragile native species – and why a more nature-friendly, climate-friendly and farmer-friendly approach is needed.”
The Scottish Government declared beavers to be legally protected in 2019.
But NatureScot has since issued dozens of killing licences when beavers are said to be damaging farmland – even though laws on protected species require management to have the least possible impact on their conservation status.
Lawyer Adam Eagle said: “We’ve studied hundreds of pages of material obtained from NatureScot through Freedom of Information requests, and we’ve compiled strong arguments that current beaver licensing practices breach the Scottish Habitats Regulations on several fronts.”
Robbie Kernahan, NatureScot’s Director of Sustainable Growth, said: “We have been working with partners for 25 years to bring back beavers to Scotland because they provide multiple benefits to people and nature. But in certain circumstances, beavers can cause problems.
“In those specific situations where beavers pose a risk of serious damage to farmland or where they occasionally cause a public health and safety concern, we issue species control licences accordingly.
”We are confident that our approach to managing these impacts is robust and lawful and licences are only used if we are satisfied that there is no other solution.”