The benefits of beavers as ‘ecosystem engineers’ are well known. Their activities can create wetland habitats, improve habitat structure and diversity and enhance biodiversity. However, it is also widely recognised that beaver activities can have negative impacts on farming, fisheries, forestry, infrastructure and other land uses. In recognition of this, the decision to allow beavers to remain in Scotland included a clear commitment by the Scottish Government that beavers, and their activities, should be actively managed to minimise any adverse impacts.
Beavers are protected by law as a European Protected Species. This protection came into force on 1st May 2019 with the view from the Scottish Government that the species should be allowed to expand its range naturally.
Fisheries Management Scotland were members of the Beaver Salmonid Working Group which was established in 2009 as a sub-group to the National Species Reintroduction Forum, to consider the potential impacts of beaver activity on Atlantic salmon and brown trout. The final report of the Beaver Salmonid Working Group was published in January 2015.
It is often stated that beavers are ‘good for fish’ and for some fish species this is undoubtedly true. However, Atlantic salmon are specialised for swift flowing waters, which would be reduced by extensive beaver damming. Furthermore, Atlantic salmon are highly migratory and vulnerable to obstruction of free passage within rivers. Further work is required to assess, understand and mitigate these issues for the benfit of Scotland’s precious Atlantic salmon. These issues were explored by the beaver-salmonid working group which produced it’s final report in January 2015. Of particular relevance is Appendix 1, in which Marine Scotland Science assess the potential impacts of beavers on wild salmonid fish.
What are we doing?
Fisheries Management Scotland are members of the Scottish Beaver Forum, which has contributed to the development of a Management Framework for Beavers in Scotland. In recognition of the need for management, NatureScot provide advice to help people experiencing problems and where possible will provide these measures to minimise damage through the beaver mitigation scheme. NatureScot and the Scottish Government also accept that in some cases such measures are unlikely to be effective or appropriate and the beavers themselves will need to be managed, including by lethal control.
Fisheries Management Scotland’s current focus is:
- Ensuring that the beaver management plan is robust and takes full account of the needs of migratory fish.
- Ensuring that fisheries managers have access to appropriate management tools which can be deployed, where necessary to ensure the free passage of migratory fish.
- Making the case for beaver management activity undertaken by our members is appropriately resourced.
- Working to ensure that no further illegal introductions occur in Scotland.
In July 2021, Fisheries Management Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates, the National Farmers Union of Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland wrote jointly to Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, seeking a clear public commitment by Scottish Ministers that greater investment will be made to support land and fisheries managers in managing and mitigating beaver activities.
NatureScot are currently trialling several techniques such as dam notching and flow devices to regulate the water level of beaver dams. In many cases, it will be possible to remove or notch dams without requiring a licence. This is vital as the beaver-salmon working group was clear that dams associated with culverts and fish passes would need swift action.