In 1995 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) approved guidelines for reintroduction of species. These have been approved by the statutory conservation agencies in Britain. Based on these guidelines the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) has developed a process for evaluating and undertaking species translocations for conservation purposes. Any reintroduction to Wales should follow these guidelines. The criteria are addressed below:
AGREED CRITERIA FOR EVALUATING PROPOSED CONSERVATION TRANSLOCATIONS:
i. There should be good evidence that the species is absent from the proposed release site(s) before the initial conservation translocation;
Beavers are no longer present in the wild in Wales having become extinct during the Middle Ages. As of May 2009 a trial reintroduction is currently underway in Knapdale, Argyll in Scotland. In addition to this beavers have recently been discovered living wild on some rivers in Scotland having presumably escaped from private collections.
ii. The release site(s) proposed for establishment should be within the historic range (post 1600, to take account of the first documentation of species distributions in Britain) of the species;
It is not known exactly when beavers became extinct in Wales or the rest of Britain, but they were probably extinct in Wales by the 15 th century. It is widely accepted, that beavers were distributed throughout Britain before over-hunting resulted in their extinction.
iii. There should be a good understanding of the reasons for the original decline and disappearance of the species considered for translocation and the causes of their reduction or elimination from the site(s) proposed for establishment of the species;
Beavers became extinct in Britain (and Wales) primarily due to over-hunting by man. Habitat loss may have played a part in some instances, but the surveys that have been undertaken in 2008 show beyond doubt that there is plenty of suitable habitat in Wales to support a sustainable population of beavers.
iv. Consideration of the outcome of any previous translocations of the species involved, either in GB or elsewhere;
Translocations of beaver have occurred in many European countries with over 200 reintroductions and translocations having taken place since 1922. Beavers are now living wild within every country within their former European range except for Portugal, Italy and the countries of the southern Balkans. A trail reintroduction is underway in Scotland (since May 2009). Experience gained from all these projects would help to inform a reintroduction to Wales.
v. Consultation with other organisations and individuals who may be interested in or affected by the proposed translocation project;
Consultation with the key stakeholder organisations has occurred since 2005. Opinions, concerns, and ideas have been collated so that opportunities and potential problems are highlighted to enable practical solutions to be developed. Further consultation is planned, especially at the local level, to ensure that all organisations and individuals potentially affected by a reintroduction of beaver to Wales are able to feed into the assessment process.
vi. An assessment of the benefits to the species concerned arising from the proposed translocation (over both short and long timescales);
A reintroduction to Britain would contribute to the underlying aim of the Council Directive 92/43/EEC (Habitats Directive) to return native species to their former range. Reintroduction of European beaver to Wales would make a contribution to the favourable conservation status of the species in the EU by considerably extending its range.
vii. Consideration of any possible harmful effects to donor populations;
Potential donor populations used to source a reintroduction programme would not be adversely affected by the removal of animals. Beaver management in Bavaria involves the annual removal of up to 300 animals, some of which could be used to supply a reintroduction to Wales.
viii. Assessment of any possible harm to other species or habitats at the proposed recipient sites;
Studies show that the activities of beavers significantly increase biodiversity within riparian and wetland habitats and have an overall beneficial effect on habitats and species.
ix. The fit with other conservation objectives of the statutory agency concerned;
As a keystone species beavers have the potential to be a major management tool in river and wetland systems in Wales, benefiting a wide range of species and habitats thus helping to achieve certain core objectives of Natural Resources Wales. The reintroduction of beavers would also comply with one of the aims of the Habitats Directive to return native species back to their former range. Beavers as a sustainable management tool could also help achieve certain core objectives of the environment and forestry sector, as well as being in line with key objectives of the Welsh Assembly Government’s proposed Natural Environment Framework.
x. The likely chances of success of the proposed conservation translocation;
Reintroduction/translocation of beavers in Europe has been overall highly successful. To date over 200 translocations have taken place throughout Europe since 1922 with the vast majority being successful and lessons have been learnt from the few failures that have occurred. There is now a wealth of experience to draw upon and approved procedures and best practice are well understood. The chances of a successful Welsh reintroduction would be extremely high.
xi. Confirmed availability of earmarked funds to complete the planned translocation and subsequent monitoring;
Preliminary investigations into potential sources of funding have been undertaken. More detailed plans would be developed as the assessment continues and exact locations for release sites are selected.
xii. Use of the most appropriate donor stock, taking into account the ecology, behaviour and genetic constitution of the species.
Recent studies have suggested that there are two lines of Eurasian Beaver:Castor fiber fiber in Western Europe and Castor fiber vistulanis in Eastern Europe and beyond (see Halley, D.J. (2010). Sourcing Eurasian beaver Castor fiber stock for reintroductions in Great Britain and Western Europe. Mammal Review 2010, Mammal Society). A reintroduction to Wales should as far as practical seek to involve the translocation of Castor fiber fiber .