BEAVERS are to be given legal protection in Scotland despite an attempt by a Tory MSP to stop the move.

The animals will be added to the list of European protected species, meaning culling can only be carried out under licence.

Licences, managed by Scottish Natural Heritage, will also be required to remove beaver dams that are more than two weeks old.

John Scott, MSP for Ayr, told the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee that after beavers were “illegally” released in the River Tay area, numbers grew from around 146 in 2012 to up to 500 by 2018.

He said they cause damage to farmland through dam building which can cause floods and affect the structure of riverbanks, costing thousands of pounds to fix. Scott, a farmer, said beaver activity could hit wild salmon stocks and raised concerns dams could affect flood mitigation schemes and cause flooding upriver.

Putting forward a motion to annul the legislation change, the Tory MSP said: “Illegally released beaver numbers are growing very rapidly without protection. This statutory instrument will offer protection, allowing the beaver population to grow even more rapidly, all of which comes at a cost. Now is not the time to be introducing beavers into Scotland and affording them this protection.”

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said she did not recognise Scott’s “somewhat apocalyptic” vision. She said it was not a question of reintroducing the species, as beavers were already present around the River Tay and a Scottish Government-run trial successfully reintroduced the species to Knapdale Forest in Argyll and Bute in 2009.

Beavers became extinct in Britain in the 16th century, mainly due to over- hunting. Cunningham said there would be no way of removing the animals in Tayside without sending in “kill squads” but added that “pop-up” populations in geographically separate parts of Scotland wouldn’t be tolerated.

Cunningham said some 20 countries had already reinstated beavers and she would be “very glad to have Scotland be the 21st”. The Labour and Green members of the committee backed adding them to the list of protected species, highlighting their contribution to biodiversity.