Judicial review on beaver culling in Scotland – a good result

Beaver culling is off-topic for this blog but there are wider implications relevant to the culling of other protected species, including raptors.

Earlier this year, Scottish charity Trees for Life launched a judicial review against the Government’s beaver-killing policy, whereby it was argued that NatureScot was too quick to issue beaver-killing licences to landowners and should only have issued licences after all other non-lethal options had been considered.

[Photo by Scotland: The Big Picture]

It’s important to note that neither Trees for Life, nor indeed any of their significant financial supporters (e.g. Wild Justice) were arguing that beavers should never ever be culled under any circumstances. That was a myth generated by some hard-of-thinking members of the farming/shooting community. The actual main thrust of the argument was that culling should have been a last resort, not a first resort.

Blog readers helped raise the funds required by Trees for Life to take on the legal challenge (thank you) and the case was heard in June (here). Of great interest to me was that the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) and landowner lobby group Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) both joined forces with NatureScot to fight the legal challenge because, according to an NFUS letter to members in April,

……. if Trees for Life wins the judicial review, along with ‘uninformed pressure’ from conservationists, then there may be implications for the ‘control’ (killing) of other species including ‘sea eagles, badgers, geese and ravens’ (see here).

Yesterday the court published its judgement and the headline news is that Trees for Life won one out of five of its legal points, but the point that it did win on was significant, in that it was ruled NatureScot’s current beaver killing licences are unlawful and the agency must in future fully set out the reasons, in writing, it believes a licence to kill a beaver is warranted. This is important because unless NatureScot can demonstrate each time that all non-lethal options have been considered first, each licence is open to legal challenge. There can be no more ‘rubber stamping of death’ as has been the case so far.

This legal ruling has obvious implications for the licensed killing of all other protected species in Scotland, and most importantly as far as I’m concerned implications for the constant, behind-the-scenes agitating by the game shooting and farming industry to be given licences to kill birds of prey such as buzzards, sparrowhawks, red kites, hen harriers, even white-tailed eagles (e.g. see here, here, here).

This legal ruling from Lady Carmichael doesn’t put the issuing of licences to kill beyond reach, and that was never intended anyway, but it does emphasise the high level of consideration that NatureScot will have to demonstrate before it issues any further licences. This is a very long way from NatureScot’s recent attitude, e.g. “Let’s have more trials [culls], whether it’s about ravens or other things” just to see what happens, as stated by NatureScot’s Director of Sustainable Development in 2018 (see here).

A Trees for Life press release on yesterday’s ruling can be read here

NatureScot response here

Very many congratulations to the team from Trees for Life. Judicial reviews are not for the faint-hearted and they require a huge amount of hard work and effort. I think they’ve achieved a significant win here.

Some other news coverage with commentary from both sides can be found here:

BBC News



9 thoughts on “Judicial review on beaver culling in Scotland – a good result”

  1. That is an important legal step forward. But one wonders what written ‘reasons’ NatureScot will come up with?

    At a reconvened Public Inquiry in England in 2012, Natural England claimed the success or failure of a novel protected species licensed Bat ‘deterrent’ scheme was subject to ‘commercial and confidentiality’ clauses with Chiltern Railways’ owners Deutsche Bahn (ie. it would be kept secret from the public).

    When pressed, Natural England said failure (ie, the local extirpation of a rare colony of Bats) ‘did not matter in the wider scheme of things’ (economics).

  2. First of all Ruth very well done and thanks for covering this issue from the beginning although it didn’t seem initially to come under RPUK’s remit. As you rightly point out the ideology behind the beaver culls is the same one pushing for culling every dam thing from pine martens to sea eagles. It’s also why it’s so alarming that the same phony arguments birds of prey need to be ‘controlled’ for conservation reasons are being used to try and legitimise having protections reduced/removed for otters. The more fronts upon which this crap is being advanced the more members of the public will believe it – I’ve been shocked at some of the people that’ve told me sparrow hawks are killing off songbirds.

    The conservation organisations really need to work together to proactively, pre-emptively fight this shite, they’ve got a growing pile of ammunition for it. Pine martens help red squirrels by being better at catching the grey ones, otter suppress mink numbers, goshawk are major predators of corvids – if you’re really worried that crows and magpies might be eating too many eggs and chicks, the decline in capercaillie at Abernethy halted when they STOPPED controlling predators and they and black grouse INCREASED in Strathspey when habitat was managed and more species of predator moved back.

    Isn’t it far more likely that songbirds have declined because their food supply has diminished as non native invasive plants like cherry laurel and snowberry, often originally put in as cover for pheasant, have displaced ground flora and invertebrates rather than their predators have somehow managed to increase inversely to their food supply? Aren’t fish stocks considerably more vulnerable to cormorants, goosanders and otters if the natural cover they’ve evolved with – weed beds and woody snags – are removed so anglers can have an easier life? It needs to be put back. Sea eagles disperse geese which will help if they’re causing a problem on farmland, they unsettle cormorants too.

    And of course there’s the beaver. Before it was reintroduced there were the predictable moaning that we should be helping the water vole more before we brought it back. Well it turns out water vole do well in the presence of beavers and survive even when American mink are present – otters like where beavers live too which will also help push mink numbers down. As with the red squirrel it seems about the best conservation strategy for water vole is bring back a totally different lost native species. The beaver is proving to be a massive boon for the conservation of a growing number of species as its range extends and it’ll be fascinating to see how it eventually interacts with everything from curlew and black grouse to ring ouzel and mountain hare – I suspect we’re going to be in for a lot of pleasant surprises.

    This judicial result is probably better than it looks at first. Apparently one farmer applied to have beaver(s) killed because ‘they frighten ma coos’. The fact that we don’t know whether or not that application was granted shows why the present system is atrocious and the change could kick quite a few requests to kill beaver into the long grass. Since only 13% of Scotland is higher quality agricultural land like the lower Tay then that means there is a considerably larger area, especially in the uplands, where beaver could get to work creating in situ firebreaks and reducing flood risk downstream to that very same productive agriculture. Why then is NFU Scotland not the most enthusiastic supporter of translocating beavers to reduce the flooding of real farmland? Of course it also means fewer homes, business, roads and railways getting flooded, but at present it seems that a corner of a tattie field getting soggy is infinitely more important than a family being flooded out of their home, though of course with the application of a little bit of intelligence both can be curbed.

    There’s an interview with Trees for Life about this result approx 49.50 minutes in in this https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0010npj?fbclid=IwAR1E2Vm5MTQvRT2uSgroBDLKLHa3b-D0ljTurHXpHhbd3IxGtR_ek2eQ7gk

      1. Cheers – I’ve made them umpteen occasions before on this site (and poor Ruth has to review them each time!), but feel they have to be brought up every time they’re relevant in case they might be useful points for someone who’s missed them before – repetition being a lesser ‘sin’ than omission. Mark Avery’s blog is just about the only other place where you have so much scope to go into even reasonable detail about these issues, things would be so much more frustrating without RPUK to be able to express your views properly.

        1. Les, I have read your comments and points many times here and on MA’s blog, but this was, I think, the first time I supported them. If this is the case I am sorry for not having done so before. They are definitely worth repeating imho. Thank you Les, thank you Ruth & RPUK.

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