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‘Dammed’ if we do!

1st May 2019

Ten years after the reintroduction of beavers to Scotland, they are now a protected species. This is great news for environmental groups, and casual countryside explorers like myself. Walking in Argyll over Christmas we came across quite a lot of beaver evidence, and their capabilities in terms of tree felling and engineering were impressive.

These prodigious talents have not met with universal cheer however. Many landowners over the past decade have found themselves mitigating beaver damage and dealing with the unintended consequences. But the consensus seems to be for sensible management rather than wholesale destruction of the species.

From the initial official release at Knapdale in 2009, there are now an estimated 450 beavers in Scotland, in Tayside and mid-Argyll. So it seems to be all good news for these most interesting of mammals, who now have protection making it illegal to kill them or destroy established dams and lodges without a licence.

And if all sides in this debate seem to have reached acceptance, it is more than can be said for the current backlash that has surrounded Chris Packham. Packham’s campaign group Wild Justice challenged the general licences that allow farmers to shoot birds including carrion crows, wood pigeons, and magpies. Individual licences can still be obtained from Natural England (the body similar to Scottish Natural Heritage).

Sometimes the rage against nature is both perplexing and sickening; whether it be housing developers netting trees to prevent birds from nesting or someone unknown leaving dead crows hanging from Packham’s gate.

Wildlife management can be controversial, particularly where wild species impinge on manmade environments. Scottish beavers are currently a success story but their elevation to protected status comes at a time of increasing concerns about the survival of our native species generally. And as with all life at the moment, Brexit is part of the problem.

This week, 35 Scottish environmental charities launched a campaign to call for a Scottish Environment Act to retain important EU environmental protections and set future ambitions for an environmentally sustainable Scotland. Even as the beaver joins the list of iconic Scottish beasties, campaigners warn that one in 11 species in Scotland are at risk of extinction and many, including the iconic wild salmon, are extremely vulnerable. So, success today may not mean success for ever but we can ‘dam’ well try.

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