Legal challenge to Scottish government’s beaver killing policy begins
A legal challenge by Trees for Life to the Scottish government’s beaver killing policy is being heard by the Court of Session today and tomorrow.
Trees for Life says the government’s nature agency NatureScot is breaking the law by failing to make the killing of the protected species a last resort when management is required.
The rewilding charity says NatureScot must consider moving beavers to areas of Scotland where they would be welcome and can help boost biodiversity, rather than issuing licences for them to be killed when they cause local damage to farming interests.
The case aims to ensure a safer future for beavers, which can help tackle the nature and climate crises because their dams create nature-rich and flood-reducing wetlands. Trees for Life also says any management changes must be practical and effective in protecting farmers’ interests.
“A ruling in our favour could transform the fortunes of Scotland’s wild beavers. But whatever the legal outcome, this case is spotlighting glaring inconsistencies in the government’s approach to protecting this still-fragile native species – and why a more nature-friendly, climate-friendly and farmer-friendly approach is needed,” said Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s chief executive.
The government declared beavers to be legally protected in 2019. But NatureScot has since issued dozens of killing licences when beavers are said to be damaging farmland – even though laws on protected species require management to have the least possible impact on their conservation status.
Given the legal protection afforded to beavers and the logic of taking a precautionary approach to their management, Trees for Life is making a strong case that all viable non-lethal alternatives to killing should be explored so that killing of beavers is genuinely a last resort.
Trees for Life agrees with NatureScot that beaver impacts sometimes need to be managed, but believes NatureScot is legally obliged to consider trapping and relocating beavers as an alternative to lethal control of beavers when it issues licenses – something NatureScot contends.
The court’s view of these arguments will be one of the key points of the judicial review. It is expected that it may be the end of the summer before the court’s verdict is announced.
Lawyer Adam Eagle, chief executive officer of legal specialist rewilding charity The Lifescape Project, which is spearheading the litigation with Trees for Life, said: “We’ve studied hundreds of pages of material obtained from NatureScot through Freedom of Information requests, and we’ve compiled strong arguments that current beaver licensing practices breach the Scottish Habitats Regulations on several fronts.”
Trees for Life’s public crowdfunder to cover the legal costs of the judicial review raised over £60,000.