Legal challenge against Scottish beaver cull gets underway today

Press release from Trees for Life

Legal challenge to Scottish Government’s beaver killing policy to be heard at Court of Session

A legal challenge by Trees for Life to the Scottish Government’s beaver killing policy will be heard by the Court of Session in Edinburgh on Thursday 3 June and Friday 4 June.

Trees for Life says the Government’s nature agency NatureScot is breaking the law by failing to make the killing of the protected species a last resort when management is required. 

The rewilding charity says NatureScot must consider moving beavers to areas of Scotland where they would be welcome and can help boost biodiversity, rather than issuing licences for them to be killed when they cause local damage to farming interests. 

[Photo by Scotland: The Big Picture]

The case aims to ensure a safer future for beavers, which can help tackle the nature and climate crises because their dams create nature-rich and flood-reducing wetlands. Trees for Life also says any management changes must be practical and effective in protecting farmers’ interests.

A ruling in our favour could transform the fortunes of Scotland’s wild beavers. But whatever the legal outcome, this case is spotlighting glaring inconsistencies in the Government’s approach to protecting this still-fragile native species – and why a more nature-friendly, climate-friendly and farmer-friendly approach is needed,” said Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s Chief Executive.

The Government declared beavers to be legally protected in 2019. But NatureScot has since issued dozens of killing licences when beavers are said to be damaging farmland – even though laws on protected species require management to have the least possible impact on their conservation status.

Given the legal protection afforded to beavers and the logic of taking a precautionary approach to their management, Trees for Life is making a strong case that all viable non-lethal alternatives to killing should be explored so that killing of beavers is genuinely a last resort.

Trees for Life agrees with NatureScot that beaver impacts sometimes need to be managed, but believes NatureScot is legally obliged to consider trapping and relocating beavers as an alternative to lethal control of beavers when it issues licenses – something NatureScot contends. 

The court’s view of these arguments will be one of the key points of the judicial review. It is expected that it may be the end of the summer before the court’s verdict is announced.

Lawyer Adam Eagle, Chief Executive Officer of legal specialist rewilding charity The Lifescape Project, which is spearheading the litigation with Trees for Life, said: “We’ve studied hundreds of pages of material obtained from NatureScot through Freedom of Information requests, and we’ve compiled strong arguments that current beaver licensing practices breach the Scottish Habitats Regulations on several fronts.”

A judicial review ruling that lethal control should only be a genuine last resort could allow conservationists and others to identify, with proper community engagement, suitable sites across Scotland to which beavers can be moved and be welcome – boosting biodiversity, creating wildlife tourism opportunities, and preventing potential damage to farmland elsewhere.

Currently the Scottish Government is blocking such relocations, even though NatureScot has identified over 100,000 hectares of suitable habitat. This is limiting the options for Tayside farmers whose land or crops are damaged by beavers, often putting them in the position of having to shoot the much-loved animals.

Trees for Life’s public crowdfunder to cover the legal costs of the judicial review raised over £60,000.

A judicial review – a court review of official decision-makers’ decisions and actions to ensure they are lawful – can only proceed when there is a recognised legal ground and if the applicant has the legal right, known as ‘standing’, to bring a challenge.

Trees for Life is dedicated to rewilding the Scottish Highlands. See


This subject is off-topic for this blog but is of interest on a number of fronts, not least the tactic of a conservation organisation taking the Government to court to challenge alleged unlawful wildlife policy, but also because blog readers contributed to the crowdfunder to support this legal challenge (here).

Perhaps most significantly though, because in this case Scottish farmers and landowners have joined forces with statutory agency NatureScot to defend this judicial review because they believe the outcome could have impacts on the lawfulness of killing sea eagles, ravens and other protected species (see here).

Good luck in court today and tomorrow to the legal team from Trees for Life.

17 thoughts on “Legal challenge against Scottish beaver cull gets underway today”

  1. Absolutely. Good luck. Thanks for posting tho Ruth. These types of cases can have far reaching implications for other species as you rightly point out. Will follow this with interest. Thank you.

  2. Poor poor creatures…how this could even be considered is beyond me. Humans have entirely forgotten it seems that they are just one species, just one small part of the whole and NOT in control of which creatures must live or die to suit their back pockets.

  3. Not really off-topic: it is all part of fighting the same cycle of intolerance and unnecessary killing of our wildlife to protect a completely unnecessary minority pastime.

  4. The real issue is that NatureScot is NOT doing all it can (or should do) to defend Nature – its most fundamental remit and the ONLY reason for its existence – probably because it is not allowed to do so politically.

    Which explains why business interests (agriculture and land ownership, together with Government) are to the fore in promoting NatureScot’s FAILURE to defend Nature.

    How long will the law-makers allow challenges to the laws they make? How well will the Judiciary resist the political pressure from the law makers? Fingers crossed….

    1. I totally agree with you Paul. And it’s not something that seems to be on the decline for all the words spoken about protecting this planet and its wildlife and environments by the majority of governments.

  5. I want to see beavers in the Thurso, the Clyde and the Tweed. There is no legal reason why that can’t happen. In fact there is a conservation imperative to desire their spread.
    SNH have decided that their role is to prevent the spread of the species. It is really illogical but that’s what we have been conditioned to expect. When did we last see a herd of red deer in Fife?

  6. Ruth,

    Was there every any thought of setting up the equivalent of Wild Justice north of the border. I think there would be value in concentrating the enforcement of the law in a core group of lawyers to build up experience rather than the scattergun approach we have now with individual NGOs picking up the baton here and there,

  7. I very much hope that this legal challenge is successful. From what I have read there does seem to be huge swathes of land the beavers could be moved to. And what is there to say that those who do shoot the beaver are killing them humanely and quickly? And with the necessary licences?

  8. I read that beavers were reintroduced to Scotland when they were released at Knapdale Forest in 2009. This was the first authorised mammal reintroduction project anywhere in the UK. Then they were legally protected in 2019. Some 22 years after they were reintroduced it is proposed to kill them under licence. The whole policy requires clarification and a judicial review may well be the solution. My own view is that the juduciary are part of the same corrupt system. The fact that the beavers were reintroduced to be killed subsequently seems to defy logic. It beggars belief that the Scottish Government is against the relocations. Where do they come from?

    1. Francis said (in part) :-
      “a judicial review may well be the solution” & “the judiciary are part of the same corrupt system”.

      Something of contradiction there. If, what you say about the judiciary is correct then would any of us who detest the abuse of wildlife want a review carried out by such people. The situation is bad enough without having those involved marking their own homework.

  9. It seems very absurd to create legislation to protect a species due to its poor conservation state, and then allow that creature to be killed in circumstances where its presence interferes with human economic interests.
    It is time humans understood that they have to live sustainably and in harmony with the rest of life on this planet; and that will mean at times having to put the interests of other plant or animal species above our own.
    The consequences of failing to do this have resulted in the current climate change and extinction crisis emergencies.
    Despite all the science, politicians really do not seem to understand this; and frequently put on a charade of pretending to be champions of the environment, and yet pass legislation which is full of loop holes and exemptions when human interests are compromised.
    I hope this legal challenge is successful, and sets the way foreword for other successful legal challenges- the ridiculous rules on heather burning and protection of peat bogs immediately springs to mind; as do the new rules on gamebird release.
    Are we serious about restoring and protecting peat bogs and native flora and fauna, or are politicians simply putting on a magic show to fool the public, and then quietly allowing those with vested interest in exploiting wildlife and the environment to carry on as normal??

  10. Of course, the answer might be simply to change the habitat – the problem is clearly intensive farming taking up the whole floodplain – with collateral damage including enhanced flooding (contrary to popular belief it is the middle reaches, not the headwaters, that are most critical in peak events) and runoff pollution from farmland. Farmers will of course claim its impossible but the reality is that they are all on tenterhooks over where subsidy payments will go. Past experience shows that despite violent protest farmers jump hard and fast for the money so if there were payment for beaver & biodiversity buffer zones along rivers the beaver problem – and a whole host of others – could be solved.

    1. I’ve seen pictures from the SGA among others purporting to show beaver damage to farming that actually show that it’s farms that have done the damage by extending right up to the water’s edge. No buffer to slow water flow into the river or loose soil from ploughed land or the various agrichemicals that do everything from causing algal blooms to directly poison aquatic invertebrates. Together with the fact about 40% of farm produce gets chucked in the bin it means there’s no bloody excuse for farms not having buffer strips. If this was done a large proportion of the supposed damage beavers do would just evaporate. I know you’ve probably seen this video RL, but as it’s the best video I’ve ever seen on any topic and it’s entirely relevant I hate losing any opportunity to push it. I’ve pasted the link to it on the SGA’s fb page numerous times, they and their pals have a difficult time trying to discredit it, so usually they say nothing –

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