Beavers in Scotland: Killing to prevent damage should be 'last resort'

The authorisation of beaver-killing in Scotland must be a “last resort” to prevent land damage when all other options have been exhausted, a court has heard.

Trees for Life launched a judicial review claiming the Scottish Government agency NatureScot is breaking the law by failing to make the practice against the protected species a last resort when land management is required.

Aidan O’Neill QC, representing the rewilding charity, told a virtual hearing of the Court of Session in Edinburgh on Thursday that capture and relocation should be the preferred method of dealing with the issue.

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He said: “Basically, killing is very much the last resort.

An adult Eurasian beaver swimming picture: Ben Birchall

“If you are going to allow killing it’s only when these strictest possible conditions have been met – when you know that it won’t have an impact on the conservation of beavers.”

Mr O’Neill added: “Because killing reduces the number of the breeding population and potentially reduces genetic viability, other measures – which have none of those adverse effects – are to be preferred.

“In effect, where capture and translocation of beavers elsewhere in the UK is an option, then it’s not open to the respondents to authorise the killing of beavers.

“If you remove beavers from the area they are said to be damaging and then translocating them to non-agricultural environments, then you will achieve the same objective of landowners without the possible negative effects on beavers of attaining favourable conservation status.”

Mr O’Neill went on to argue that EU law is relevant to the court when making its decision and that any claims from the respondents otherwise were “nonsense”.

He said: “In preparing for this case I’ve been running around chasing hares of claims that have been made by the respondents which have no basis in law.

“The fact is, they say it, so I’ve got to point out – no, it’s wrong because of this.

“The fact that I’ve got to do all that work, really, because they’re putting this forward, unsustainable propositions of law, really, is not perhaps the best use of this court’s time.”

Ruth Crawford QC, representing NatureScot, argued it is not for the court to “roll up its sleeves and grapple” with information on which a decision was reached about whether killing can be justified.

She said: “The argument for the petitioner is, I would submit, little more than an untouched assertion no doubt made in support of its doubtless well-meaning campaign activities.

“But however much my learned friend dresses it up through the EU law lens, it is actually a disagreement with the assessment of the first respondent’s approach to and evaluation of the evidence of risks, on the one hand, namely prevention of serious damage and whether there are solutions to address those risks on the other.

“In essence, the petitioner disagrees with the first respondent’s consideration of that evidence.”

Ms Crawford added: “It is not, I would submit for this court, to itself be satisfied with certainty that the licensing tests were met.

“Rather this court requires to be satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, there being only one civil standard, that the first respondent was entitled to be certain on the conclusions it reached.

The hearing before judge Lady Carmichael continues on Friday.

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