Most Scots are in favour of a pioneering scheme to bring the beaver back to Scotland after an absence of 400 years.
A YouGov poll commissioned for the Scottish Beaver Trial, a licensed five-year experiment to reintroduce Eurasian beavers in Argyll, suggests three in five people are in favour of the animals once again living wild north of the Border.
The scheme, led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, is the UK’s first formal trial reintroduction of a mammal.
The trial is to end next month, when the government will decide if there is a future for the world’s second-largest rodent, which has been extinct in the UK for four centuries.
The survey of 1,652 adults found 60 per cent of respondents backed reintroduction.
“It is really positive to see majority support for the reintroduction of beavers to Scotland,” said Scottish Beaver Trial project manager Simon Jones. “Separate feedback from business owners in the Argyll area has also been positive and suggests the trial has boosted visitor numbers.
“Monitoring the social and economic benefits of beavers to the local area was always one of the trial’s major aims. We hope that any benefits will be lasting.”
Just 5 per cent of people in the online poll were against the project, while 30 per cent neither supported nor opposed it. The rest were undecided.
The European beaver became extinct in Scotland in the 16th century due to habitat loss and hunting for its fur and castoreum, a secretion from scent glands used in perfume.
The project began when five beaver families were taken from Norway and set free in Knapdale forest between 2009 and 2010. Norwegian animals were chosen for their genetic similarity to Scottish populations.
Six of the 17 founding animals either died or went missing not long after their release, but despite the early setbacks and the deaths of two Scottish-born kits, the survivors have successfully produced eight offspring.
The latest count shows there are now 19 beavers living around lochs Coille Bharr, Buic, Creagh Mhor and Linne in the forest.
A study on the economic impact of the beaver by the University of Oxford concluded “with forethought, prior consultation and planning, a beaver reintroduction should bring significant monetary benefits within the local economy and communities that could greatly outweigh any potential negative impacts”.
But landowners and farmers have voiced concerns about how the species might affect rural businesses after reports of “significant impacts on agricultural land” in areas of Tayside where an unlicensed colony of around 150 beavers has become established. It is not known whether these animals escaped from captivity or were released illegally.
NFU Scotland has asked members there to record any impacts the creatures may be having so the findings can be considered alongside the Knapdale study.
The Scottish Beaver Trial animals will stay at their adopted home until environment minister Paul Wheelhouse decides on their fate. He said he would keep an “open mind” until he has reviewed the findings by SNH.
“We have an important opportunity to evaluate what the impact would be of reintroducing a species that has had a history in this country,” he said.
“But although it may not be a completely new species to Scotland, we do have to understand what its impacts are.”