Scottish beavers are being killed in “cruel and callous” ways despite full protection under European law, wildlife campaigners have warned.
The creatures are being “bludgeoned to death” during the breeding season on the River Tay, according to ecologist Derek Gow who works on species reintroductions. This is despite them being listed as a European Protected Species of animal as of 1 May.
Mr Gow shared a picture of a dead pregnant beaver found near Crieff in Perth and Kinross with bullet wounds visible in the carcass.
A post mortem revealed it was shot in the head and then “suffered for some time” before being killed with a rifle.
Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) chief superintendent Mike Flynn told The Independent he was investigating.
“As the beaver was shot and not killed instantly, it does indicate the beaver was caused unnecessary suffering,” he said.
A spokesman for Scottish Natural Heritage, which manages the licences required to trap or kill beavers, said: “We can confirm this beaver wasn’t shot under licence. If it was shot after 1 May, it is an offence.”
Beavers were first released in Tayside in 2006 and for 13 years they had no protected status. Farmers and land owners – who consider beavers a problem because their dams cause flooding and damage crops – have often been criticised for killing them in cruel ways.
Since 1 May farmers and landowners have had to apply for a licence which stipulates that killing must be “done in such a way so as to minimise welfare impacts”.
The Scottish government has already issued issued 28 licences to kill beavers and remove dams. Approximately 170 people have been accredited as beaver controllers so they too could also apply for licences. There are only 450 beavers on the Tay.
“If they each kill three beavers annually the population is gone... The inferno that will be the Tay beaver cull begins,” said Mr Gow.
These recent killings have also been carried out during the breeding season.
“If you remove [beavers] at this time of year in a breeding locus you will have to kill entire families and tiny babies in their lodge. All the other life that lives behind and around the dam dies as well,” Mr Gow said.
Sources have estimated 200 or more beavers have been killed on the Tay so far.
“The population simply cannot take this. I’m not sure where this will leave the species in Scotland,” said Mr Gow.
Duncan Orr-Ewing from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) told The Independent: “We’re not opposed to beaver management, but it has to be as a matter of last resort and when non-lethal opportunities have been thoroughly explored. And that doesn’t feel like what’s going on right now.”
Beavers became extinct in Britain in the 16th century due to over-hunting by humans. However, between 2009 and 2014, 16 Eurasian beavers were introduced into Scotland.
They are considered a “keystone species” due to their role in providing habitats for other species. Their dams create ponds and pools that form ideal habitats for species of birds, insects and mammals.
“These animals build wetlands which purify water, slow flooding, mitigate droughts and restore biomass and biodiversity on a staggering scale. Why are we killing them? It’s a horrid situation,” said Mr Gow.
Mr Flynn said: “The Scottish SPCA will be investigating all reports of the killing of beavers where welfare has been compromised. If anyone has any information, please phone our confidential animal helpline on 03000 999 999.”
The Scottish government has been contacted for comment.
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