Farmers and landowners raise funds to defend right to kill beavers

The National Farmers Union Scotland and Scottish Land and Estates have appealed to members to help wildlife regulator NatureScot defend a judicial review of its beaver shooting licensing process.

The National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) wrote to members on 7 April, asking for their backing to raise £100,000 to oppose the judicial review which alleges that NatureScot has been breaking the law in the way it issues beaver control licences.

The case, which has been instigated by rewilding charity, Trees for Life, is due to be heard in court later this year.

Published in the Raptor Prosecution UK blog, the NFUS letter claims that a Trees for Life victory and “uninformed pressure” from conservationist groups, may set a precedent for the “management” of other species such as sea eagles, badgers, and ravens.

Steve Micklewright, chief executive of Trees for Life, said: “NFUS have every right to represent their members’ interests at the judicial review and we have no objection to that. However, we do not believe that the impact of a successful judicial review will prevent the management of beaver impacts, provided it is within the law.  

“Nor do we consider that this judicial review represents any threat to the effective management of wildlife where there is objective evidence that it is genuinely needed and provided that lethal control is always a last resort. 

"However, I am sure many will find the tone of the letter from NFUS rather curious. It states that they want to work ‘in support of NatureScot’ rather than just in its members’ interests. It also sets out their broader agenda with regard to allowing the lethal control of other species. Their list includes badgers, a species for which there is no objective evidence to indicate they cause any damage to farmers’ interests whatsoever.”

NFUS, in conjunction with Scottish Land and Estates, has asked its members to contribute towards legal fees against Trees for Life. NFUS is committed to donating £75,000 of the sum.

Martin Kennedy, president of NFU Scotland said: “It is important that we sensitively manage wildlife to benefit and improve our biodiversity in balance with our need to produce food and keep the nation fed.

“Beavers, in the right areas, can enhance wildlife and conservation. In the wrong areas, they are proven to cause significant and costly agricultural damage.

“When beavers received protected status in 2019, an appropriate and proportionate licence system was put in place to allow lethal control where there was clearly damage to land and crops. To those impacted by beavers on their land, the licence system has been a valuable way of protecting their farm from economic and environmental damage.”

He added: “While the outcome of the review would have implications for those who currently hold licences to control beavers, the case has wider implications and may set a precedent in terms of future species management and the options available to prevent serious damage to farming and food production.”

Conservationists continue to raise concerns about the “broader agenda” of NFUS, according to The Ferret. The Scottish Greens said that NatureScot’s willingness “to join with others to defend the right of landowners to kill animals they see as ‘problematic’” seemed “utterly at odds with its statutory role”.

Beavers were given legal protection by the Scottish Government on 1 May 2019. Landowners and farmers have therefore had to obtain a licence from NatureScot in order to kill them.

In 2019 alone, 87 beavers were killed with licensed permission in Tayside, which is a fifth of the known population. NatureScot declined to tell The Ferret how many have so far been killed in 2020.

Robbie Kernahan, director of sustainable growth for NatureScot, 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.

“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 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.”

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