The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform announced in November 2016 that beavers, already living wild in Scotland, could remain and would be given protected status under EU Habitats Directive. Having lead the Scottish Beaver Trial with the Scottish Wildlife Trust RZSS celebrated what is a milestone in the history of UK conservation; the first reintroduction of a mammal to the UK.
Beavers were hunted to extinction in the UK in the 16th century. By modifying their surroundings through coppicing, feeding and, in some cases, damming, beavers create ponds and wetlands which attract other species, provide a food source to others, and can even help improve water quality. For this reason, they are known as a 'keystone' species.
RZSS, in partnership with the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Forestry Commission Scotland, released the first beavers to live in Scotland in over 400 years in May 2009. This marked the first formal reintroduction of a native mammal species in the UK and the beavers were monitored closely for a five-year period between 2009 and 2014. At the same time, an independent scientific monitoring programme (led by SNH) assessed the effect beavers had on the local environment and local people, with a final report being presented to Scottish Government in June 2015.
Alongside applying its genetics and health screening expertise to assess beavers in the River Tay and Earn catchments the Society has also screened the River Otter beavers in Devon for the project lead by the Devon Wildlife Trust.
Our efforts will now be focused on reinforcing the beavers in Knapdale through a translocation application to Scottish Natural Heritage using the Scottish code for Conservation Translocations in partnership with the Scottish Wildlife Trust.