MORE than 200 beavers have been culled in Scotland since they became a protected species.
New data shows that since beavers became a European Protected Species on May 1, 2019, some 202 have been subject of licensed killing.
Some 115 were culled in 2020 on top of 87 that were shot between May 1 and the end of 2019.
Highlands-based Trees for Life says NatureScot, the government conservation agency, is breaking the law by issuing lethal control licenses without exploring all other options.
It comes as NatureScot said beaver numbers have doubled in the past three years.
A survey by NatureScot, the government conservation agency, estimates 1,000 beavers now live in the wild, reaching rivers north of Dundee in the east, westwards to Crianlarich, north of Loch Lomond, and south to Stirling on the river Forth.
Describing it as a “rapid expansion” they believe the expansion is likely to reach into Loch Lomond in the future.
The largest of its kind so far in the UK, the survey confirmed beavers had established 251 territories, more than double (120%) those found three years ago. One northerly population in Glen Isla, Angus, is close to the southern border of the Cairngorms national park.
Using canoes and field surveys, researchers found 13,204 confirmed signs of activity, including burrows, dams, lodges, scent mounds, canal digging and tree feeding. There were signs of beavers near Drymen, next to Loch Lomond, but no evidence they had settled there.
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NatureScot said the findings were a conservation success but the agency came under heavy criticism after over the numbers that were killed last year under licence, to protect farms, woodland and infrastructure.
Another 31 were trapped and relocated to official reintroduction sites in England and Wales. That is on top of the 83 beaver dams that were removed, with 15 animals live-trapped and translocated between May and December of 2019.
Beavers have been called “ecosystem engineers” for their incredible construction skills and are seen as a potential solution to flooding and wetland loss.
Trees for Life is seeking to curb the legal deaths through a judical review in court.
Its legal action argues that ministers and the nature agency are failing to make the killing of beavers as a “genuine last resort” when the species needs to be managed.
The rewilding charity accused NatureScot of suppressing this data when the charity launched legal action over its beaver culling policy last year. Trees for Life is waiting for a judge to rule on whether NatureScot’s policy on lethal control is lawful, after a two-day judicial review hearing in June.
Alan McDonnell, the charity’s conservation director, said: “NatureScot has sat on this grim tally since December, refusing to confirm it until today’s bid to hide the figures behind a welcome turn of events for the overall beaver population. This is such a waste of life and opportunity when nature is in crisis.”
Both the National Farmers Union and the landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) raised £100,000 to make official legal representations and join forces with Scottish ministers and NatureScot to fight the beaver cull challenge.
The NFU argued that if Trees for Life succeed it will set a precedent over future species management and could “limit options to avoid serious agricultural damage.”
Robbie Kernahan, NatureScot’s head of sustainable growth, said: “Beavers are nature’s supreme water engineers, but we know they may cause severe problems in some areas, particularly for crops on prime agricultural land and for important infrastructure like road drains or railway lines.”