Lochaber has potential to support reintroduction of beavers, says rewilding charity

European beaver (castor fiber) swimming across forest lochan, Knapdale Forest, Argyll, Scotland. Photograph: scotlandbigpicture.com NO F03 Beaver © scotlandbigpicture.com copy

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Lochaber has the potential to support beaver populations if the Scottish Government changed its policy to allow beaver reintroductions to other areas of Scotland.

So said Trees for Life, the charity which operates the flagship rewilding project at Dundreggan Estate, not far from Fort Augustus.

A spokesperson told the Lochaber Times there were currently no plans to look at the reintroduction of beavers in Lochaber at the moment, but he added: ‘There is a lot of good habitat in the area – so Lochaber would have the potential to support beaver reintroductions if the Scottish Government changed its policy to allow beaver reintroductions to other areas of Scotland, and should local people – who would have to be properly consulted – then decided they wanted to bring beavers back under the right conditions.

‘Of course, any potential reintroduction would need proper discussion and consultation with local people.’

His comments came after a crowdfunding appeal by Trees for Life to help protect Scotland’s endangered wild beavers has now raised almost £60,000 – setting the scene for a court challenge to the Scottish Government’s beaver policy, which the charity says is causing needless loss of beavers’ lives.

Trees for Life and rewilding charity The Lifescape Project claim the government’s nature agency NatureScot is breaking the law by failing to make killing of beavers a last resort when the animals have unwanted impacts on agricultural land.

The month-long crowdfunder set out to raise at least £40,000 to cover the costs of a current judicial review of the government’s approach. The legal challenge aims to ensure a safer future for beavers, which can be key allies in tackling the nature and climate emergencies.

The crowdfunder closed on January 5, exceeding its target thanks to 1,500 supporters. Additional high-profile support came from television presenter and naturalist Chris Packham, whose campaigning conservation group Wild Justice donated £5,000.

‘The support for our campaign to protect Scotland’s biodiversity-boosting, flood-preventing beavers has been amazing, and every donation is hugely appreciated. Public opinion clearly supports a more nature-friendly, climate-friendly and farmer-friendly approach to beaver management,’ said Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s chief executive.

After the Scottish Government declared beavers a legally-protected species in May, 2019, those wanting to kill beavers or remove their dams or lodges must obtain a licence from NatureScot. Trees for Life says dozens of such licences have now been issued.

A  judicial review ruling in Trees for Life’s favour would mean killing beavers was a genuine last resort as it would allow conservationists and others to identify possible alternative sites around Scotland where beavers could be moved to and be welcome.

In 2009, a total of 16 beavers were reintroduced to Scotland at a trial site in the Knapdale Forest in Argyll. Numbers later dropped to nine, but a further 21 have bolstered the population.