Earlier this year I wrote about a court challenge being made by the rewilding charity Trees for Life against NatureScot, challenging the issue of licences to kill beavers. This followed the release of information by NatureScot reporting that, during 2019, 87 beavers were killed and 15 were live trapped under licences that it had issued to farmers and landowners.

Trees for Life, with the help of a crowdfunding exercise, raised proceedings in the Court of Session for judicial review of the decisions to grant those licences. Its argument was that where beavers were causing problems to farmers they should be trapped and relocated to more suitable habitats and that issuing a licence to kill endangered wild beavers should be a matter of last resort.

The National Farmers Union of Scotland and Scottish Land & Estates became involved in the court case in order to support NatureScot.

Trees for Life made a number of arguments including:

  • that NatureScot had failed to interpret and apply the appropriate regulations correctly;
  • it was not entitled to take into account a research document entitled “Beaver Licence Assessments – Prime Agricultural Land”;
  • it failed to give reasons for granting licences; and
  • it had a blanket policy of granting licences for lethal control where applications related to prime agricultural land.

The charity also argued that NatureScot failed to consider the individual circumstances of each application and that it should have reviewed and revoked the licences that it had granted authorising legal control.

Trees for Life was successful in its application and the court ordered that those licences that had not already expired should be revoked.

However, this was a narrow technical victory for Trees for Life because the only complaint on its part that was upheld by the court was that NatureScot had not given reasons to the applicants on why a licence was being granted. This procedural defect was sufficient in the court’s view to mean that current licences should be revoked.

The remainder of Trees for Life’s complaints were not upheld.

Accordingly, it is the case that NatureScot will be able to issue licences for the control of beavers in the future, including lethal control, so long as it complies with the necessary regulations and so long as it provides reasons when making a decision to grant a licence.

A version of this article originally appeared in The Press and Journal.

For more information contact Hamish Lean, Partner and Head of Rural Business and Property, at hamish.lean@shepwedd.com.

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