Beavers are felling trees and risk “devastating” prime agricultural land, farmers have warned amid an expansion of rewilding plans in Scotland.
Scotland’s nature agency on Thursday approved an application to trap and move up to four families of beavers to land in Argyll and Tayside, from areas where they were having a “serious negative impact” on farms.
Separately, Cairngorms National Park has revealed that it is set to apply for a licence to release more than a dozen of the animals at three sites in the upper Spey valley, in what will be the first reintroduction of wild beavers to the Highlands.
Beavers were hunted to extinction in Scotland in the 16th-century.
However, numbers have risen rapidly in recent decades due to illegal reintroductions, followed by an authorised release of the animals in 2009.
Numbers are now believed to be well over 1,000, with populations expanding from agreed sites to private land.
NatureScot, the Scottish Government quango, has begun to grant licences to move animals from areas in which they damage farmland, but the policy has provoked opposition from farmers close to new areas where they will be released.
If the application to release beavers in the Cairngorms is approved, it would be the first reintroduction completely outside the animals’ existing range, confirming Scottish Government policy of spreading the animals across all of Scotland.
Ian Wilson, Highland regional manager for the National Farmers Union Scotland, said local farmers are “nervous” about the prospect, having seen them cause flooding in high-quality farmland on the Tay.
“The impacts of the beavers could be quite devastating to individuals,” he said. “There will be areas where there is potential for great damage.”
While much of the area’s farmland is hilly and unlikely to be badly affected, the impact will be felt on the best valley bottomland.
Mr Wilson added: “When the beavers take the decision themselves to move out with the park area that’s going to cause probably greater conflicts.”
Jamie Williamson, whose Alvie and Dalraddy Estate lies close to all three release sites, believes the animals could be on his property “within days” of their release.
The shallow Allt an Fhearna burn runs across the estate. He believes beavers could dam it to create protective pools, flooding nearby infrastructure such as his biofuel wood-chipping plant.
‘Push water into fields’
“What concerns us is that all this land is protected with ditches,” he said. “If beavers start felling trees into the ditches they will just push water into the fields.
“This is some of the most productive land we have and if that gets flooded more we have a serious problem.”
The plans to reintroduce beavers to the Cairngorms have not yet been approved, but if they are, the animals could arrive by the end of the year.
Donald Fraser, NatureScot head of wildlife management, said the approved areas in Argyll and Tayside, on publicly owned land, had been assessed as “highly suitable locations” for beavers.
He added: “We know that beavers can occasionally cause issues, and while we anticipate a low risk of conflict, NatureScot’s Beaver Mitigation Scheme will be available to assist land managers should any issues arise.”