Two sections of this Directive are relevant to beaver reintroduction
Article 6 of the EU Habitats Directive requires that there should be no reasonable scientific doubts about adverse effects on the integrity of a designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC) following reintroduction.
The following points can be made:
• SAC habitat is a site-specific issue which therefore need not be a consideration for reintroduction in Wales. Location of reintroductions and subsequent management can safeguard against prospective impact.
• Even where protected sites may occur within part of the intended range for any reintroduction, the substantial general habitat enrichment which beaver reintroduction would bring can be seen as a valid compensation.
• Experience in Europe indicates that this proven potential should greatly outweigh any hypothetical concerns about adverse localised impact.
• Programmes of reintroduction in 27 countries in Europe over the last 70 years would not have proceeded were benefits not found to have outweighed problems, with ease of management being a notable issue.
Article 12 of the Directive, listing the beaver as a protected species in Annex 4, does not ordinarily permit lethal control and thus limits potential for beaver management. In accordance with this Article, it i s considered that beaver once released would have protection under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.
Landholders understandably want to be able to operate effective control measures to hand should problems arise from the impact of beaver on their property. Whilst Article 12 still remains in place, the following points are relevant:
- Beaver can be readily managed by a variety of non-lethal means (see Section 4 above).
- Culling would only be needed as a last resort under very few circumstances, and because of options for translocation there would be no foreseeable requirement for such a measure within the first 10 – 15 years following reintroduction.
- There will be excellent potential for securing exemption from this Article within this time period, through one or more of three routes:
• Article 16 of the same Directive suggests the option for individual member states to be granted a derogation “provided that there is no satisfactory alternative and the derogation is not detrimental to the maintenance of the populations … at a favourable conservation status.”
If reintroduction will not gain sufficient support in the absence of a clear legal mandate allowing (lethal) control, and thus does not go ahead, it follows that allowing such control would facilitate reintroduction and be beneficial to populations that would not otherwise be established.
Any request for such derogation can be made in the context of demonstrating that there is a comprehensive programme of options for minimising beaver damage and managing their populations through live catching and release – with culling only as a last resort.
• Amendments have already been made to this legislation to allow recently joined EU member states with substantial beaver populations to reduce the level of protection stipulated, thereby suggesting useful precedence for further exemptions, again where these could be seen as a crucial factor enabling reintroduction.
• With large populations in many EU states, beaver are no longer endangered – and there is a case for having them removed from Annex 4, thus abrogating the impact of Article 12.