‘WHY would you want to bring beavers to your farm?”

Since last November – when we relocated these ecosystem engineers to Argaty in Perthshire, from an area in Tayside where they were unwanted – I’ve been asked this a lot. Looking back, I realise that I’ve never quite answered it honestly.

“Because we are in an environment crisis.”

“Because beavers massively boost biodiversity.”

“Because they’ll be shot otherwise.”

Each of these (somewhat predictable) responses was true. Each seemed to satisfy the interviewer. But as I’ve watched these industrious animals working here, breathing new life back into this landscape, I’ve had time to consider those replies and I realise none of them quite satisfies me.

READ MORE: National strategy laid out to develop Scotland's beaver population

Much has changed here in the short space of time since we became Scotland’s first private site to legally release beavers into the wild. Living up to their busy reputation, the animals have gone to work on our waterways, and the transformation has been remarkable.

Amphibians now swim and breed in beaver-dug canals. Herons loiter there for the chance of spearing food. Insects feed on the sap of gnawed trees. Last winter, our first beaver dam held back water, and in summer droughts – while much of the country burned and waterways disappeared – the beavers dredged deep channels in their ponds, kept water within them, and kept thousands of species alive.

Multiply such positive changes across a pond, tributary or whole river catchment, and you start to see the cumulative good of beavers.

At a national level, things have also changed for beavers since that first family, including three kits, arrived at Argaty. Scotland now has a national beaver strategy, detailing how we can “maximise the environmental and wider benefits of beavers, while minimising negative impacts through effective management and mitigation”.

The strategy should make good on Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater’s admirable desire to actively expand Scotland’s beaver population, and assist those people and organisations seeking to move them from areas where they are unwanted to new parts of the country where they are. For those hoping to reverse the nature crisis and tackle climate breakdown through nature-based solutions, Scotland’s beaver strategy is a cause for celebration.

That two wildlife charities – RSPB Scotland and Trees for Life – have led applications for beaver relocations, based on detailed public consultations, provides more reason for cheer. So too does the news that the Cairngorms National Park Authority will next year lead consultations on bringing beavers to the park. Desperate times call for bold action. Credit to those willing to take it.

I always hoped that our beaver project would open the door for others to attempt longer distance relocations and that one day we might see these animals reintroduced and widely dispersed throughout the country. To witness the first signs of change coming is hugely satisfying.

And yet my mind still returns to that question: “Why would you want to bring beavers to your farm?” And I realise that in other respects, I am not happy.

Last year alone, 87 beavers were shot in Scotland. Their deaths keep the country’s cull average at just shy of 100 beavers a year – roughly a tenth of our tiny beaver population. If 12 million Bavarians can co-exist with 23,000 beavers, and 5.4 million Norwegians with 80,000, why do 5.6 million Scots struggle to accommodate just 1000?

The issue here is that relocating beavers within Scotland has yet to become a normalised process that offers a viable alternative to killing. Yes, there are places in Scotland where beavers and people may struggle to co-exist – but with NatureScot having identified over 100,000 hectares as suitable habitat for the animals, there are many more places where they won’t.

FOR beavers to reach those places, for the new strategy to work, and for helping Scotland become a rewilding nation that works with nature instead of against it, we need those who manage the land and are entrusted with caring for nature to step up.

So where is Forestry and Land Scotland, manager of 8% of Scotland’s land – including 40% of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park? Forestry and Land Scotland claims to manage public land “for the benefit of all”. Its beaver policy is at odds with that.

What of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park? The proactive attitude of the Cairngorms National Park towards beaver translocations casts its sister organisation in an unflattering light. If one national park can lead the way on beaver translocations, why is the other dragging its heels?

With polling showing that 62% of Scots want to see beavers reintroduced on a much wider scale, and with calls on the monarchy to practice what it preaches on nature restoration, when might we see beavers translocated to the Crown Estates’ 37,000 hectares?

Will NatureScot put its new beaver strategy into practice by relocating animals to our National Nature Reserves in 2023?

A final word must go to the wildlife charities. How disappointing it is that so far only two of them have come forward for beavers.

Perhaps now you understand my dissatisfaction with that frequently asked question: “Why would you want to bring beavers to your farm?”

READ MORE: Beavers could return to Highlands for first time in 400 years

The truth is that I don’t know why others wouldn’t want to do this. We know that the environment is crashing. We know that these animals can help stop the rot. Surely those who own land should offer it up and spare beavers the bullet.

So the real question is not why we did this. It never has been. The question, to each of those aforementioned organisations is: “Why aren’t you?”

Tom Bowser is the owner of Argaty and author of A Sky Full of Kites: A Rewilding Story.

Argaty is a working farm based on the Braes of Doune in central Scotland. It has been home to the Bowser family since 1916. The farm has two aims: to produce food in an environmentally sensitive manner and to make a home for nature. The farm is home to the award-winning Argaty Red Kite project. Argaty is a member of the Scottish Rewilding Alliance. argatyredkites.co.uk