Statement on EFRA Committee’s report to Species Reintroduction Report 2023

Earlier this month saw the publication of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Species Reintroduction (EFRA) Report, and we commend the extensive evidence and commentary presented.

However, we express concern regarding the recommendations within the report that:

“If a reintroduced species is to be given protected status (as in the case of beavers), a risk assessment and management plan should be in place in advance of the protected status being granted. The protected status of beavers should be reviewed by the Species Reintroduction Taskforce in England, in consultation with stakeholders.”

The beaver population in England is currently small, fragmented and largely in enclosed projects. Wild-living populations are limited to six discrete areas in Southern England, are genetically fragile, and have not had a significant impact on surrounding land use to date where they are present. Protected status safeguards beaver populations from persecution and ensures management action does not threaten the recovery of this native species.

Before protected status was implemented on 1st October 2022 a detailed assessment of the risks beaver reintroduction posed was carried out in the review of the evidence on the interactions of beavers with the natural and human environment in relation to England published by Natural England in August 2021.

Natural England also published a detailed management framework which clearly stated non-licensable and licensable actions prior to protected status in early September 2022. Where management activities can only be undertaken under a licence, Natural England engaged with stakeholders to develop three ‘class licences’ that can be used for beaver management and has embarked on a large training program to prepare stakeholders to manage beaver impacts, in advance of beavers returning in most areas. A class licence requires a one-off registration and allows a group or class of users to undertake common management activities in a standardised way. This approach allows conflicts with beaver activities to be managed swiftly.

Finally, detailed consultation has already been carried out by Defra on its approach to the reintroduction and management of beavers in England in November 2021. 3,201 submissions were received, 270 of which were from stakeholder organisations, in response to Defra’s proposed approach to wild releases, existing wild beaver populations, beaver enclosures, and management. 73% agreed with the proposed approach to management, including making beavers a European Protected Species by listing them in Schedule 2 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.

Considering all of the above we feel the work, which the EFRA committee recommend should be completed for protected status to be granted to a species, had already been completed by Natural England before beavers became protected on 1st October 2022. Therefore, we see no justification for the protected status of beavers to be reviewed by the species reintroduction task force in England.

“Compensation should be available in areas where species reintroductions have the potential to damage agricultural land or practices.”

While we understand the minister is not considering compensation at this stage, we believe this would not be an appropriate measure for a wild animal, instead, we should be incentivising farmers to make space for nature.

By offering adequate incentives for the restoration of riparian habitats, such as the implementation of buffer zones that provide space for nature and natural processes, the majority of adverse impacts caused by beavers on land and from land uses can be minimised.

Considering Minister Harrison’s primary focus on habitat this approach would promote the creation of wetland and riparian habitats, boosting biodiversity, species abundance, the restoration of floodplains and increased climate adaptation.

Ultimately, to ensure a balanced approach going forward, we continue to emphasise the need for a comprehensive national strategy for beavers in England, which strives to maximise the environmental benefits of beavers while effectively managing and mitigating any negative consequences. This will require further consultation.

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