Conservationists are urging the government to give the green light to plans to bring back wild beavers to Scotland after a 500-year absence, saying it is a “golden opportunity” that will benefit society, the economy and the planet.
The call comes after a pioneering trial reintroduction project came to an end last year. The Scottish Government is due to rule on the future of the former native species in Scotland.
It is nine months since Scottish Natural Heritage submitted its report on the Scottish Beaver Trial, a five-year experimental reintroduction of beavers in Argyll.
Now conservation charity Trees for Life is backing previous calls by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and Scottish Wildlife Trust, lead partners in the scheme, for a positive decision as soon as possible.
They say the animals, which were hunted to extinction in Scotland in the 16th century, play a crucial ecological role and benefit other species.
Beavers coppice and fell trees, letting light into forests and enabling other species to grow. By damming watercourses they create wetland areas, which provide homes for a range of wildlife.
“Allowing this native species to return would offer Scotland huge benefits,” said Alan Watson Featherstone, founder of Trees for Life.
“Beavers are superb ecosystem engineers and could transform and greatly improve the health of our rivers and forest ecosystems, help restore our depleted wetlands and reduce flooding – while substantially boosting wildlife tourism.
“We also have an ethical responsibility to allow the beaver to return at last, having caused its extinction in Scotland. The government has the opportunity now to take a far-sighted, positive decision that will benefit our communities and landscapes.”
Scotland already has more than 250 beavers living freely around the River Tay. They are thought to have colonised the area after escaping or being released from captivity. The situation has angered local farmers, who say the animals are damaging trees and causing flooding in fields.
Beavers are not currently protected, so farmers can cull them and remove their dams.