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: