A WARNING has been issued that the future of Scotland’s fragile population of wild beavers is at risk as this year’s beaver killing season begins.

It has come from the Scottish Rewilding Alliance, a coalition of 24 environmental charities, countryside access organisations, businesses and community groups.

Scotland’s baby beavers are officially seen as no longer dependent on their mothers from today – meaning farmers with unwanted beavers on their land can again apply for licences to shoot the animals.

According to the Alliance, 87 beavers – one-fifth of the Scottish population – were shot last year. There are fears the scale of the killing could be replicated this year and that the species could ultimately face a second extinction.

The Scottish Government says beavers cannot be relocated outside of their existing river catchments, and can only spread naturally from their ranges in Knapdale, in Argyll, and Tayside – leaving farmers whose crops are sometimes damaged by beavers with little option but to apply for a licence to kill the animals.

The Alliance has launched a petition calling for relocation to be permitted, in the hope of triggering a parliamentary debate.

It says each beaver shot is a wasted life that could have helped to rewild Scotland. It says beavers build small dams – creating nature-rich wetlands that support a wealth of wildlife and soak up carbon dioxide, and which reduce flooding and improve water quality. Beavers can also benefit local communities by becoming a tourist attraction.

“Beavers are brilliant for wildlife and people, but in Scotland they’re at risk as a species because the Scottish Government allows their legal killing,” said Steve Micklewright, the Scottish Rewilding Alliance’s convenor and chief executive of rewilding charity Trees for Life. “Needless bloodshed could be reduced by allowing beavers to be moved to where they would be welcome,” he added.

Since Scotland’s beavers became a protected species in May 2019, those wanting to kill them or remove their dams or lodges must obtain a licence from Scottish Natural Heritage.

Rebecca Wrigley, chief executive of Rewilding Britain, said: “Beavers can be key allies in tackling the climate and nature crises. Every signature on the Scottish Rewilding Alliance petition will help show the Government it should save the country’s fragile wild beaver population.”

The petition, which has already been signed by almost 8000 people, can be supported at treesforlife.org.uk/savebeavers until August 27.