Breakthrough for British Beavers: Native species status awarded to Scottish populations

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After years of uncertainty, the Scottish government has finally announced that the two populations of Eurasian beaver currently residing in Scotland will be allowed to stay through the granting of native species status. Eurasian beavers are originally native to Britain but became extinct in the 1600s due to hunting for their fur and glandular oil (castoreum), which was historically used in medicine.

One of the populations residing in Scotland was reintroduced to the region of Argyll in the 2009 Scottish beaver trial. Since the trial began, a total of four families have been reintroduced from Norway. A second population which can be found in Tayside, arrived by illegal reintroduction. Despite this offence, the government have agreed that these beavers can also stay in their current habitat. Both populations will be managed carefully so as to minimise conflict with farmers and land owners, brought on by the disruptive nature of beavers which includes dam building activity. Conflict has resulted in the shooting of beavers by land owners in Tayside, with some killings considered to have been inhumane because of the types of rifle used and in cases where the slaughtered beavers had dependent young. The deaths included two pregnant beavers who were close to the end of their pregnancy at the time of their death. The new status which was awarded just yesterday provides these beavers with legal protection against killings.

Environmental importance of the Eurasian beaver

Beavers are considered to be ecosystem engineers and a ‘keystone species,’ that is, a species which affects the survival and abundance of other wildlife in the community in which it resides. Through the creation of ponds and wetlands beaver activity attracts other species and also helps to improve water quality, positively impacting fish and other wildlife. For now, the challenge will be for land owners and farmers to work with the government to manage beaver populations in a way that will reduce conflict. For the beavers however, the 24th of November can be thought of as a momentous day, one which seeks to ensure their protection for generations to come.

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Jess Webster

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