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Minister Urged to Halt Spread of Beaver

29.03.12

European Beaver

The Angling Trust has today written to Fisheries and Natural Environment Minister Richard Benyon urging him to authorise the trapping and lethal control of beavers to halt their spread into England from Scotland following the failure of the Scottish government to contain populations within a number of trial release sites. This might involve applying to the European Commission for an exemption to the beaver’s European Protected Status to allow them to be controlled and their dams to be dismantled, which has been done in other member states.

Anglers throughout the UK reacted with concern to the announcement that the Scottish Environment Minister, Stewart Stevenson, has blocked the conservation agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), from carrying out trapping and euthanasia of hundreds of beavers which have been released into the River Tay catchment. These animals were almost certainly released illegally into the wild by beaver enthusiasts and have already spread throughout Perthshire and Angus and it is only a matter of time before they spread into England and Wales.

Anglers are particularly worried because beavers create dams across streams and rivers which can prevent coarse and game fish migrating up and downstream to complete their lifecycles. Many fish stocks in the UK are already suffering as a result of agricultural and sewage pollution, over-abstraction, weirs and dams and other habitat damage, invasive non-native species, poaching and predation. To make matters worse, beavers may enjoy European Protected Status, which means that they, or the dams they build by felling trees into rivers, cannot be interfered with without a licence. This will prevent anyone removing problem beavers or dams.

There are also grave concerns following the discovery that the Scottish beavers may be carrying Echinococcus multilocularis, a tapeworm that can be transferred to foxes, dogs and people. It causes a number of human fatalities each year in countries in which it is present, which do not currently include the UK. Aveolar echinococcosis can take between 10 and 15 years to be diagnosed, by which time it has caused so much damage to the liver that 90% of patients die. In Switzerland, a far smaller country with far fewer foxes, the human death toll is between 20 and 30 cases a year.

Other concerns about the spread of beavers include the potential for increasing flood risk and the felling of garden and suburban trees. An adult beaver can bring down a 10 inch wide tree in under an hour, and a single beaver family will fell up to 300 trees a year. In the upper Danube region of Germany, beavers have caused £5 million of damage and they are now being culled.

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal said: “we believe that the Scottish Government has failed in its duty to protect the whole of the UK by allowing this situation to develop. These illegal releases should never have happened, and when they did, a rapid decision should have been taken to eradicate the animals from the wild. A series of blunders has led us to a situation where beavers might spread throughout the country, damming rivers, blocking access to spawning areas, felling trees and infecting other wildlife and people with lethal tapeworms. We urge the Westminster government to take decisive action urgently to stop beavers spreading into England.”

ENDS

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