Warning: Graphic image of shot beaver contained in the article
We were horrified to see the disturbing photograph of a shot beaver that had been left by a bank in Perthshire. This graphic image shows the grim reality of our licencing system in Scotland. Last year it was reported that 87 beavers, a fifth of the population, were shot under licence.
In this blog, we explore the protected species of beavers, and what that really means, and speak to the person who discovered the beaver.
After a very long process, beavers became a protected species in May 2019. Landowners wishing to kill them must obtain a lethal control licence issued by the Scottish Government wildlife agency, NatureScot, previously known as Scottish Natural Heritage. However, shooting must be a last resort and non-lethal alternatives must be shown to have been exhausted before killing is even considered, under the NatureScot Management Framework for Beavers. We have no information as to how this particular case was managed, nor if any non-lethal alternatives were considered or attempted.
Beavers are known as ecosystem engineers due to the many benefits they bring in restoring natural functions. They have been described as water gardeners, creating a mosaic of wetland habitat through their dam-building, benefitting all manner of flora and fauna. They can slow down the movement of water from land to river systems, preventing serious flooding, and regenerate wetlands, in turn boosting biodiversity. Scotland should be proud to have this animal back in our countryside.
We spoke to the person who discovered the beaver to ask how it felt to find the dead body of such a beloved and protected species slumped by a ditch.
“It made me angry, of course. The beaver had been shot in the face and its injuries looked really painful. It makes me wonder whether the beaver died instantaneously, or suffered before finally succumbing to its injuries. I don’t think shooting an animal in the face is a quick death. But, I’m also just so disappointed that there looked to be no attempt to trap the beaver. Shooting this native species should be the very last option and carried out by people who know how to shoot an animal in the most humane way.
“I was aware that beavers were likely to be shot in the local area, all locals were very aware that this was sadly likely to happen. There had been talk about it in the community for weeks. Most people here are supportive of beavers being here and their benefit to the environment.
“I’m very supportive of the Trees for Life petition to the Scottish Government to ask them to initiate a programme to translocate protected beavers to suitable habitat. When there’s non-lethal alternatives available to landowners, shooting should only be a last resort. Beavers do so much good for the environment and when the beavers are removed our landscapes can suffer.”
The Scottish SPCA is currently investigating the death of the beaver to see how many times the beaver was shot and whether the animal was shot with the right calibre of weapon.
The Scottish Government needs to show more compassion and respect for the welfare of Scotland’s wildlife by supporting the translocation of beavers. There are a number of serious welfare concerns associated with shooting beavers, including the possibility of shooting them with low-calibre guns or from too far away to ensure instant death. Causing such suffering is unacceptable when translocation and other methods are available to manage perceived conflicts in agricultural areas. Killing beavers should be the absolutely last resort.
We support the parliamentary petition, brought by Trees for Life, that calls for the translocation of beavers to suitable habitats to reduce licensing killing. Currently they are only permitted to be relocated to areas where beavers are already present, severely limiting this as an option. Please note that the petition has now closed.