Legal culls of 'problem' beavers fall amid support for species expansion in Scotland, official figures show

Nearly 90 protected beavers were legally killed in Scotland last for causing problems for farmers and landowners, official figures show.

The animals are valued for their positive impact on the environment and abilities as natural ‘ecosystem engineers’.

But they can also cause damage to trees and agricultural land.

The species was successfully reintroduced to Scotland in 2009 after being extinct for centuries, and the Scottish Government has said it will support their natural spread.

Legislation was passed in 2019 giving the species protected status, meaning it’s illegal to kill or disturb them.

But in places where dam-building and other beaver behaviour is having a negative impact, animals can be removed or culled under special licence.

Estimates suggest there are currently around 1,000 of them living in at least 250 territories across the country, mainly in Tayside, with the population growing by around a third annually.

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Beavers to be relocated across Scotland to help species spread and avoid culls
Beavers were given legal protection in Scotland in 2019 after being successfully reintroduced in the wild -- but animals can be killed or relocated under licence to take them away from areas where they are causing damage to agricultural land. Picture: Lorne Gill/NatureScot

NatureScot licence returns show that a total of 120 beavers were captured in Tayside in 2021 to prevent serious damage to agriculture.

Of these, 87 were killed – down from 115 a year earlier but the same number as in 2019.

The other 33 were moved to licenced projects elsewhere – a small increase from 2020.

A total of 47 dams were also removed.

Culling of beavers has stirred up controversy in recent years, including public outrage following reports that pregnant females had been killed.

This year’s figures show the biggest ever proportion of those captured being taken to a more suitable home – rising from 15 per cent in 2019 to 28 per cent in 2021.

The agency said it was confident that the killings would not have a negative impact on the “favourable” conservation status of the species.

Biodiversity minister and co-leader of the Scottish Greens Lorna Slater said: “Restoring this previously extinct species is a major nature restoration milestone, but is also important because beavers contribute to restoring Scotland’s natural environment and help to mitigate flooding.“Following the Scottish Government’s decision last year to actively support the expansion of the beaver population, I want to continue to see greater use of translocation and other mitigation measures to ensure that people and beavers can live side-by-side.”

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