Building dams that flood land, the beavers have infuriated farmers. Some have obtained permits to kill the animals — setting off outrage among conservationists.
EDINBURGH — Wrapped inside a brown hessian sack, the baby beaver wriggled as it was carried to an examination table, but gave up the fight as a veterinarian deftly punched a microchip into its thick pelt and removed clumps of brown fur for samples.
“It’s stressful for the animal,” said Romain Pizzi, a wildlife specialist, as he extracted blood from the scaly flat tail of the male kit captured just a few hours earlier. Nonetheless, he added, this was a lucky young beaver.
“The alternative,” he said, “is that it’s going to be shot.”
But the sanctioned killing of an otherwise protected species has enraged conservationists, prompting a legal challenge and igniting a polarizing debate about farming, biodiversity and the future of Scotland’s countryside.
Although there was an official trial reintroduction of beavers in 2009 in the west of Scotland, the animal’s return is primarily a result of earlier escapes or unauthorized releases of beavers imported privately, mainly from Bavaria or Norway. The growing population is most evident in the streams of Tayside, north of Edinburgh.
The five-month-old kit in the examining room, weighing in around nine pounds, had been caught in a trap in Tayside and rescued from what is called a “conflict area” — where, because of the damage the animals cause, farmers have won licenses to kill them. In 2020, they killed 115 of the animals, about 10 percent of a beaver population that now stands at roughly 1,000 across Scotland.
the new Scottish government’s draft policy program.
In Scotland, beaver territories, which vary in size but typically feature around four animals, have increased steadily — from 39 in 2012 to 251 in 2020-21, according to an official report. In 2019, beavers were given protected status, albeit with farmers able to apply for licenses to cull.
Now, a rewilding charity, Trees for Life, has challenged the Scottish government’s nature agency, NatureScot, in court claiming that it issues licenses too readily.