What is the issue?
The EU Habitats Directive requires member states to consider the desirability of reintroducing certain species, including the European beaver. Beavers are believed to be an important component of healthy, functioning rivers, wetlands and riparian woodlands. However, they have been absent in England since the 12th Century and in Scotland since the 16th Century, significantly longer than most other European countries considering and implementing reintroduction. Changes to our landscape, flora and fauna during this time may have reduced the suitability of beaver occupation to the UK.
We recognise beavers have the potential, in certain areas, to bring benefits to the ecology of our watercourses, and help achieve environmental targets. S&TCUK are however concerned that beaver reintroduction could disrupt upstream and downstream migration of fish, putting extra pressure on already stressed populations. The Atlantic salmon is already protected under European legislation, and it is our obligation to help restore and conserve our native populations. This raises real questions about the feasibility of reintroducing beavers into our heavily managed, population dense landscapes.
What S&TCUK has achieved so far
S&TCUK have been closely monitoring the Knapdale Beaver trial, and remains in close contact with parties investigating a possibly English reintroduction trial.
S&TCUK have produced a briefing paper pulling together current research on the pros and cons of beaver reintroduction to aid decision makers (link to paper).
What still needs to be done?
We believe any further trial reintroductions should only be considered on a catchment basis, and in conjunction with stakeholder support, comprehensive management plan and funding stream, and credible exit strategy.
The trial should weigh up the environmental benefits provided by beavers, against the potential damage to fisheries, forestry and agriculture, and the financial management burden, before any further introductions are implemented. Any beaver reintroduction project must be monitored and assessed with the full cooperation and involvement of fisheries interests. S&TCUK will continue to monitor the situation to ensure this happens.