There is currently considerable interest in re-introducing the European Beaver (Castor fiber) back to Scotland, reflected in the reintroduction trial that is currently taking place in Knapdale Forest in Argyll, and public reaction to the population of beavers on Tayside that have arisen from escapes from private collections.
Archnetwork secured funding via the Leonardo da Vinci programme to send six people from Scotland on a fact finding study tour to Bavaria from 16th to 23rd October 2012. The aim of the tour was to develop a fuller understanding of how beavers were managed in Bavaria, and what lessons could then be implemented in Scotland. The Bavarian situation is regarded by many people as being similar to Scotland, with the system of beaver management being something that we might wish to copy. We wished to ascertain if this was indeed the case or if this assumption was misplaced.
The six people who went on the trip represented a wide range of interests and skill sets.
Victor Clements, a self employed woodland advisor based in Aberfeldy in Highland Perthshire;
Dr Aylwin Pillai, a lecturer in environmental law at Aberdeen University who has taken a particular interest in European protected species and had recently been commissioned by SNH to look at derogations in different EU countries and their potential relevance to Scotland;
Uwe Stoneman, who manages three reserves on Tayside for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB);
Tina Ng-A-Mann, a member of the Scottish Wild Beaver Group, with particular interests in education and political lobbying;
Jim Perrett, a retired hydrologist with SEPA and recent Chair of the River Earn Improvement Association (REIA).
Ann-Marie McMaster, a mink control officer employed by the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS).
Beavers had a strong relevance to all participants in their everyday work and interests. The Group proved to have a good mixture of experience and skills, with two German speakers helping with questioning and interpretation as situations demanded.
The study tour was hosted by Gerhard Schwab of Bund Naturschutz de Bayern.
This report is a summary of the trip, with the participants concentrating on particular areas in which they had an interest. Approximately half of the trip was spent in the west in and around the Bavarian Forest in the Deggendorf area, with the second half of the trip concentrated around Moosberg and Munich on the floodplain of the Danube and other tributary rivers. The group represented a range of different perspectives on beaver reintroduction from the outset and this report is presented as a set of individual reports on specific aspects of beaver management. The views given in individual reports are not necessarily representative of the group as a whole. However, the Group was in broad agreement on the main messages of the trip:
- We should not under-estimate the range of potential issues that beavers will create in Scotland, nor must we downplay genuine anxieties relating to these.
- Bavaria demonstrates that it is possible to put in place a practical system of management to deal with those issues that enjoys confidence and support of all those involved.
- However, the legal implications of implementing a pro-active management strategy within the constraints of the Habitats Directive may present a challenge for reintroduction in Scotland, and this needs to be carefully considered.
- Bavaria illustrates that there is a cost implication to reintroduction, likely to be a seven figure sum in Scotland when populations become fully established and widespread. This may take 15- 20 years to manifest itself fully, but there are likely to be direct and indirect costs from the outset, in terms of compensation for damage, monitoring and administrative control as well as possible cross-compliance issues and a range of other factors. The cost implications, both direct and indirect, should not be under-estimated.
- Any system of management must be agreed and in place before a full re-introduction here is contemplated.
- Such a system will inevitably require a change in thinking/ culture in how we manage species/ habitats in Scotland.
- Beavers are game changers in that some of their impacts cannot be ignored and must be addressed, most notably their affect on infra-structure and low lying agricultural land.
- If the above points are taken on board, the Bavarian experience suggests that beavers can then co-exist with other land uses and become an important part of the cultural and natural heritage fabric of this country.
Agenda for “Beaver and Beaver Management in Bavaria”.
Arrival at hotel in the Bavarian Forest
9:00 to 12:00
Presentation on beaver and beaver management in Bavaria
12:00 to 18:00
Round trip to beaver sites in the area of the Bavarian Forest with lunch break in the field.
Round trip to beaver sites in the Danube Floodplane (Isar river, oxbows, gravel pits, drainage ditches). Rescued beaver from sewage works and released. Meeting with local volunteer beaver consultants, use of traps, beaver culling & anatomy. Meeting with mayor of local village, visit to see compensation strips/ fish ponds and individual tree protection.
09:00 – 16:00
Visit to the National Park Center with tree walk and animal enclosures, lunch at the national park centre. Visit to see the largest beaver dam in Bavaria.
18:00 to 20:00
Moving on to second hotel in the Ingolstadt area
canoe trip through a beaver site next to Freising and along the Esau river, field lunch with the beavers
Communicating beavers with Anke Simon (nature guide): “beaver games” for children and adults.
Visit to the abbey at Freising.
Visit to view beavers in captivity in garden, along with night-time viewing of dam building activities.
Dinner at the Weihenstephan brewery in Freising, the oldest brewery in the world, established in 1040 AD.
Meeting with the Ingolstadt Water Management Authorites. Protection of levees against undermining animals.
Boat trip through the Danube Gorge, and visit to the monastery nearby.
Meeting with Thomas Obster, head of the Kelheim-County farmers association in the field in Pförring
“Beaver evening” in Pörring with other local farmers.
Visit to Ministry in Munich to speak to lawyer re: the beaver management programme in Bavaria.
The “airport beaver” and other sites next to MUC airport
Return to Scotland.
Outside the Environment Ministry in Munich
The German and Bavarian Legal Frameworks for Eurasian Beaver Protection and Management
Dr Aylwin Pillai, University of Aberdeen, Rural Law Research Group
The German and Bavarian legal frameworks for the protection and management of the Eurasian Beaver are of particular interest to Scottish reintroduction concerns because the Bavarian beaver reintroduction is often cited as an example of successful reintroduction and management practice. This study visit was, therefore, of great interest from a legal and practical point of view. However, it particularly highlighted a number of important distinctions that limit the extent to which it is possible to draw lessons for Scotland from the Bavarian experience:
– Whilst Germany (and Bavaria) and the UK (and, therefore, Scotland) are both bound by the requirements of the Habitats Directive in terms of species protection, national implementation of the Directive varies according to the different social, political, cultural and economic circumstances of each country. This makes direct comparison of implementation between different countries difficult.
– Further the German system of federal and state governance and the system of local administration does not bear comparison with anything in the UK or Scotland. One of the immediately apparent benefits of the German system in terms of managing human relationships and relieving and addressing human-species conflicts is the close working of the local municipalities in the management of the beaver, particularly in the use of derogations. Scotland lacks a comparable structure for this type of practice to work.
– Another significant issue relates to the ownership of land. Not only is there much greater state and local community ownership of land in Bavaria than in Scotland, but land purchase also appears to be a fairly well-used solution to resolve conflicts with farmers and to preserve habitats for beavers. This is unlikely to be considered appropriate in Scotland.
– Another significant benefit of the German approach to beaver management is that it fits within the context of a well established and well regulated hunting culture. Again, this is quite distinct from Scotland.
Notwithstanding these issues it is possible to make some observations about the legal frameworks for beaver protection and management in Bavaria:
The Eurasian Beaver is a protected species in Germany by virtue of its inclusion in Annex IV of the Habitats Directive and through the implementation of that Directive through the Federal Nature Conservation Act or Bundesnaturschutzgesetz (BNatSchG). The provisions for the protection of European protected species, including the beaver, are set out in section 44 of that Act which makes it an offence:
– to pursue, capture, injure or kill any wild beaver;
– to disturb the species, particularly during periods of breeding, rearing, hibernation and migration;
– to take away, damage or destroy breeding sites and resting places of the species, regardless of their stage of development.
Given the potentially significant impacts of the beaver on human activities (e.g. farming, forestry, commercial fisheries, public highways, sewage works, hydro power schemes, roads and railways), the Bavarian beaver management strategy makes full use of the opportunities for derogation or exception to the special protection of the beaver.
In line with the Habitats Directive Article 16 the Federal BNatSchG provides for exceptions (or derogations) to the special protection under section 44. The legislation distinguishes between two types of exceptions. These are specific and general exceptions under section 45(7).
Specific exceptions are permitted in individual cases:
– to prevent serious agricultural, forestry, fisheries, water or other significant economic damage
– to protect naturally occurring animal or plant life
– for purposes of research, teaching, training, or re-introduction or breeding or artificial propagation
– in the interests of human health, public safety, including the defence and protection of the civilian population, or significant favourable impact on the environment
– for other imperative reasons of overriding public interest, including those of a social or economic nature
An exception can only be authorised if there is no satisfactory alternative and provided that it is not detrimental to the conservation status of the population of the species. This provision for specific exceptions seems to comply with the Habitats Directive Article 16. However, in Bavarian management practice there are a number of grey areas surrounding this approach to the protection of the beaver including the interpretation of ‘serious damage’, ‘deliberate disturbance’, and damage to ‘breeding and resting places’ under the Habitats Directive, as well as dependence on a narrow interpretation of ‘satisfactory alternatives’. The point at which damage to agricultural land becomes so serious as to justify a derogation under the derogation is difficult to determine, but in practice it appears to be relatively easy for farmers to obtain a derogation to remove a beaver dam.
In circumstances where a beaver or family of beavers is flooding drainage channels, burrowing under farm tracks or into fields it is possible to obtain a derogation to remove the beaver family. The Bavarian strategy is to take a “whole family” approach to such measures because removing one ‘problem’ individual from the site is not practicable, since the rest of the family would continue the damage unabated. It is also clear that, for similar reasons, derogations to remove beaver structures and beavers are sometimes given on a repeated or even permanent basis, since once one animal is removed another will subsequently move in.
The Bavarian Ministry of Environment and Health guidance on beaver management provides that where a beaver has been removed by intervention (capture or killing) then beaver constructions (dams and lodges) can be removed without restriction. It also states that unoccupied dams and lodges can be removed at any time, without restriction, although it acknowledges that an expert (i.e. a beaver consultant) may be required to determine whether these are in use. The study trip meeting with a leading representative of the Bavarian farmers union confirmed that, from the farmers point of view, the success of the Bavarian beaver strategy depends upon having mechanisms in place whereby problems can be addressed through derogations.
Finally, much depends upon the population level at which the detriment to conservation status is assessed. (It appears to be assessed at local level in Bavaria but the European Commission guidance on the special protection of species suggests that population level needs to be assessed at local and national levels. The population of beavers in Bavaria is high but in other parts of Germany this is not the case).
General derogations are granted by the state governments or Länder by means of regulations. Where a general derogation exists there is no need to apply to the Ministry for a permit to carry out the activity. The permit is provided ‘generally’ under the legislation. The Bavarian AAV contains a number of general exceptions from the protection in order permit the capture and killing of beavers and ‘to prevent considerable economic damage and for reasons of public safety’. Regulation 2(1) permits the killing of beaver between 1st September and 15th March as a general exception to BNatSchG in sewage works, channels for water power, hydro power stations, endangered dams and flood protection (like dykes, bunding and dams) and in relation to public roads. Such measures have to be conducted in a manner and by a person specified by regulations 2(5) and (6).
Notwithstanding these restrictions it is at least questionable whether these general derogations can be regarded as ‘selective’, ‘limited’ and ‘strictly supervised’ within the meaning of the Habitats Directive. Further, regulation 2(1) provides that beaver dams can be removed provided occupied beaver lodges are not disturbed. Thus a distinction is drawn between main or natal dams (necessary for the existence of an occupied lodge) and non-natal dams. Under the general exceptions the latter can be removed without restriction. Natal or main dams could also be removed where necessary but this would require a specific derogation under section 45 of BNatSchG.
The picture painted here and discussed with a Bavarian Ministry for Environment and Health lawyer during the study visit is one in which the exceptions provided for under the Habitats Directive are ‘used to the full’. It is arguable that in Bavaria the beaver population has reached such a level that the exceptions have become the rule. 700-800 beavers are routinely killed in Bavaria per year as part of the management strategy. This would seem to conflict with the spirit and aims of the Directive.
Nonetheless, it is quite clear that for Bavaria this is a practical response to a real problem given the large numbers of beavers and the significant and widespread impacts. Until or unless the Eurasian Beaver is removed from Annex IV it is difficult to see how a practical management strategy in the Bavarian context could respond any differently.
For Scotland, however, if the beaver were to be formally reintroduced, this kind of resort to derogations would rarely be justified. Further, for cultural and political as much as ecological reasons, Scottish Natural Heritage likely to want to take a much more precautionary approach to issues like the determination of ‘breeding and resting places’.
Prior to making a final determination on reintroduction the Scottish Government must consider the interpretation of the key provisions of the directive highlighted here and set out what this could mean in terms of the practical management of the species and the response to species impacts. This is necessary to ensure that the species is able to exist in relative harmony with landowners and managers. It is likely that the Scottish Government would take a much more cautious and restrictive approach to the interpretation of the Directive. It is also worth noting that if the impacts of the species cannot be adequately addressed using derogations then the cost implications of compensating damage to property could be much greater.
Ann-Marie MacMaster, Rivers and Fisheries Trusts for Scotland (RAFTS)
Beaver typically build dams in shallow burns or streams (rather than large, deep rivers) in order to raise the water level so that they can swim, feed, cache food and enter the lodge in relative safety. The impressive engineering skills of the beaver together with materials used, such as branches, soil and plants, collectively ensure that the dam is a substantial semi-permanent structure. Once the dam is built the water level rises and it is possible that the immediate surrounding habitat may become flooded.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that a number of species benefit from the activities of the beaver including plants, dragonflies, birds and amphibians. In addition, beaver areas slow down water run-off during flooding, decrease peaks of flooding downstream and beaver ponds trap nutrients and retain silt.
Not everyone will benefit from the beaver however. Economically valuable land such as arable land and forestry are at risk from damage. In such cases there are a number of non-lethal measures that can be used to deter beaver from living and foraging in a given area.
1. A pipe(s) can be incorporated through the dam allowing water to drain away faster and the water level to drop. A cage is constructed around the mouth of the pipe so that any debris in the water does not block the pipe entrance (see photo 1).
Photo 1: Pipe inserted through dam in order to reduce the water level. Note mesh cage
at one end to prevent debris from blocking the pipe © Ann-Marie MacMaster
2. Trees can be felled by beaver for both food and dam construction materials. In cases where valuable trees are at risk from beaver damage mesh netting or sheets of galvanised metal can be used to protect the tree trunks before beaver begin felling trees (see photo 2). An alternative to this is to paint the tree trunks with ‘anti-beaver paint’ (a mixture of sand and glue which deter beaver from damaging the tree).
Photo 2: Mesh netting can be used to protect trees from beaver damage © Aylwin Pillai
3. Electric fencing can be used to prevent beaver access (e.g. fishing ponds or crop fields) however this can be expensive and time consuming to maintain as the vegetation must be kept in check in order for the electric fence to remain in good working order (see photo 3).
Photo 3: Electric fencing can be used to prevent beaver access to crop fields © Gerhard Schwab
4. If flood prevention banks are at risk of damage by beaver burrowing behaviour, galvanised steel netting can be used to prevent the beavers from burrowing. The bank can also be in-filled with concrete.
5. Scaring devices may also be used to deter beaver from a given area. These could be visual (e.g. flashing lights) or audible (e.g. loud noise).
6. Non natal beaver dams, e.g. dams which are built to enable the beaver better access to food but which are not essential to their survival, can be removed.
7. In some cases lethal measures must be taken. Where human health and safety are at risk, e.g. beaver burrowing beneath a railway embankment or road, then it is possible to remove the dam (including natal dams) and lodge and the beaver will also be removed by either trapping or shooting on sight (see photo 4).
Photo 4: Where human and health and safety are at risk it is necessary to trap and
Cull beavers © Ann-Marie MacMaster
Beavers and Flood Prevention. Jim Perrett
This action obviously has potentially disastrous effects on the integrity of the flood bank.
Simple removal of the lodge and backfilling the damaged bank is not worthwhile as the beaver would only find another point nearby and start again. Such action is also prohibited by Article 12 of the Habitats Directive which prohibits the deliberate disturbance of protected species and the damage or deterioration to their ‘breeding and resting sites’ Action to remove the lodge or the animal requires a derogation (or exception) under the Habitats Directive. This is implemented in Germany through the Federal nature conservation law and, for Bavaria, through Bavarian state law, the AAV.
The Bavarian answer is to try to implement measures to protect flood banks from beaver activity.
Where an existing burrow has been identified within the bank, reinforcing the dam with sheet piling on the inside face of the flood bank forms a barrier to stop further incursion ( option 1)
When it is found that a bank is in general disrepair then when the bank is rebuilt a membrane of clay with mesh is inserted.(option 2).
If there is no beaver activity and the bank is deemed sound then preventative action may be carried out by revetment of the banks using large stones.
Where beavers have already burrowed into flood protection banks remedial measures can only be undertaken as an exception to the legal protection afforded to the beaver (as above) and this must be in compliance with the tests for a derogation under the Habitats Directive (serious damage, no alternative course of action and not detrimental to the favourable conservation status of the beaver).
Flood banks in Scotland generally fall into two categories. The Government/Local authority Flood Prevention Schemes e.g. Perth, Bridge of Earn, and Weem, and the flood banks like those on the Isla, Tay and Dean water (which are primarily for agricultural land) whose upkeep lies with the riparian owner.
Generally we find that in new design Flood Prevention Schemes that the banks are well back from the river or stone faced so beaver incursions should be rare though future design work should take possible beaver incursion into consideration.
The older farm schemes had a tendency to maximise the available land use and were therefore prone to be on or immediately adjacent to the river bank. Work on these flood banks is usually in response to there failure in a flood and the repair work falls to the riparian owner. An inclusion of a beaver barrier under these circumstances would be pointless. Weakening by beaver incursion will increase the failure rate. Should a major length of bank require replacement then the inclusion of beaver membrane would add extra cost but not a significant percentage of the total.
Both the possible increase in bank failure and the required installation of bank reinforcement where there is known beaver activity will have costs to the riparian owner which would have to be addressed through some form of Grant Scheme.
Beaver dams and Flood attenuation.
The subject of attenuation was discussed briefly with a representative of the Ingolstadt Water Management Authority. He had no particular view on the subject.
My own view would be that in a single stream scenario the dams could be large enough to have an effect of lowering the peak flow from a flood, by how much would depend on the dam area. However whether a number of dams on numerous side streams of a major river would have a similar effect, the juries out.
It would depend where the dams were sited relevant to the main stem. Attenuation could work both ways.
If all the dams were in the headwaters, and none in the lower reaches, then they would aid in the lowering of the flood peak. This can be seen quite graphically if you compare the flood flows from the rivers Lyon and Tay at there confluence where Loch Tay attenuates the River Dochart and River Lochy flood flows.
If all the dams were in the lower areas of the river basin they could increase the flood peak by attenuating flows that would normally have dispensed prior to the main stem flood peak.
Beavers and Migratory Fish.
I have been an active member of the River Earn Improvement association for over 25 years www.riverearn.co.uk.. and a Hydrologist for over 40 years most of which was covering the Rivers Tay, Earn, Eden and Esks, and latterly also the Dee Don and Deveron. I would wish to believe that my understanding of migratory fish movement and of river Hydrology puts me in good stead to make the following deductions on the effects of Beaver Dams on fish migration.
The group visited beaver dams in Bavaria on tributaries of the Danube. A number of the dams were on drainage ditches on a large flood plain so weren’t really a concern regarding migratory fish. However on streams that I could make a comparison with to similar tributaries of the River Earn the dams would be generally impassable to migratory fish. The exception was on the Esau River where a series of dams had well defined spills. We were informed that this particular structure had been in existence for around 15 years.
With structures up to 1.5metres high in the existing stream channel and stretching over the flood plain, up to 100metres in one case, it’s doubtful if they would be drowned out sufficiently to allow upstream passage of Salmon or Trout. My experience has shown that where a restriction does exist Salmon would simply drop back downstream rather than try to ascend the structure. A case study is my local burn where a 1 metre high pipe bridge was built some years ago. No Salmon fry or parr were found above this structure during a recent juvenile survey. Salmon and Seatrout were regularly present prior to the works being carried out.
There may be exceptions where upstream migration of a small numbers of fish is successful. We then have the problem of the downstream smolt migration. If river levels remain low then the smolts will gather in the dam pool. This will make them easy targets for predators. Should a smolt be fortunate enough to actually crest the dam it more likely to find itself in long grass and reeds with no obvious channel to the stream. Therefore one can assume a very high mortality rate.
With sea trout numbers already a cause for concern. The smaller tributaries being there main spawning areas any dams will have a serious impact on the population.
The obvious answer to the dams is there removal. The difficulty here is by doing so we breach Article 12(1)(b) of the Habitats Directive prohibits the deliberate capture or killing species and the ‘deliberate’, as opposed to accidental, disturbance of Annex IV species
For anglers or Fishery Boards to remove dams an exemption to the Directive would have to be sought by the Scottish Executive. This could be site specific where local fisheries boards classify streams using existing data of population distribution. The Class (1) streams having total protection against beaver incursion.
Tree felling and bark ringing was prevalent in established territories. The impact on the river channels would be minimal but could be more of an inconvenience to fisheries.
The effect of dams on water quality has been quoted as possibly beneficial. I don’t profess to be knowledgeable on this front. They will certainly act as a settlement pond allowing deposition of some silt and improve downstream turbidity. My only concern is by doing so they may be detrimental to invertebrates in the immediate area downstream of the dam. I believe that there is some investigative work being carried out in Norway.
There is a paper circulating, from the University of Southampton which purports to increased habitat for fish in beaver dams supported by a number of Fisheries managers. It should be noted that this will not include Salmon Fry and Parr as they do not frequent this type of Habitat and is more likely to refer to course fish and brown trout.
BEAVERS & EDUCATION REPORT
TINA NG A MANN
Education and ‘getting the message across’ are fundamental to Bavaria’s beaver management. Their approach is holistic, covering 3 main groups: beaver consultants, farmers and children.
Beaver consultants are employed at county level, with 3 – 7 consultants covering each county of approx. 1,000 square km. They operate under 2 Beaver Managers, covering North & South Bavaria, who provide week-long training programmes for each consultant. Training covers how to deal with and disseminate information to farmers, as developing a good relationship with affected farmers is a major part of their work. They also learn how to map beaver territories and numbers, as well as how to trap, handle and shoot beavers as necessary. Beaver consultants are also involved in educating children, and are trained in the use of ‘beaver games’.
Education of farmers encompasses effects of beavers and how to mitigate these effects. Beaver managers make presentations to farmers’ unions and local groups, while beaver consultants visit problem sites within 48 hours of contact. Farmers are given confidence that their issues will be taken seriously and dealt with promptly.
Educating children (who will then tell their families) is another important thread to beaver education. Hunters provide ‘green schools’ which teach children about their environment, including beavers, but the vast majority of children’s education is undertaken by beaver consultants. This can involve simply providing field trips to beaver sites, but generally provides more interest through crafts (eg making beaver chips into necklaces and other jewellery) or ‘beaver games’. Anke Simon, a beaver consultant in Furstenfeldbruck, has developed a complete programme of beaver games primarily aimed at children.
Studying an animal adapted to water is part of the 4th year primary school curriculum, and this generally means beavers because of their easy access. Anke’s programme is used by beaver consultants throughout Bavaria, and involves a 3 hour interactive field trip at primary level, or 2 hours for pre-schoolers. Children generally have no previous knowledge of beavers, so games begin at a very basic level – pointing out distinguishing features on a model of a beaver. They then develop to cover behaviour and habitat, following a beaver’s activity over the course of a night eg chewing a carrot like a beaver, tasting willow bark twigs, miming beaver actions. But many beaver games can be used in presentations to adults, and are used with farmers and other stakeholder groups eg problem cards to be paired with solutions, which can be used as discussion points and extended to specific groups such as farmers, fishermen, hunters and environmentalists.
Reactions to beavers are generally positive, but this has taken over 20 years of proactive education. While some farmers are positive about the presence of beavers, the attitude of most is ambivalent – beavers are there, and they must all learn to deal with them. The major sufferers of beaver damage, when pushed many farmers would prefer beavers not to have been reintroduced into Bavaria (despite the damage compensation they receive as EU subsidies).
Many forms of beaver education would easily be transferable to Scotland, especially the beaver games. With the Scottish Wild Beaver Group (SWBG) I will be using the methods learned in Bavaria to raise knowledge and understanding of beavers in the Tayside area. But the different nature of farming in Scotland means that creating a positive attitude in farmers would be more difficult than in Bavaria, where far more land is owned by the state, and can be given in compensation for flooded fields. Scotland would also need to develop a system of financial subsidies to go hand in hand with widespread education.
Farming, Forestry and Future Funding for Beaver Management in Scotland
Although the topography in Bavaria is very similar to Eastern Scotland, farming systems and land ownership are very different. Virtually all animals are kept indoors all year round, with forage being harvested and taken to them. Pigs and cattle pre-dominate, with only very small numbers of sheep. During our trip, we saw very few animals out grazing. Indeed, the countryside is notable for its almost total lack of fences. This is partly due to the very complex nature of land ownership, and the high proportion of state owned land. It is illegal to construct permanent fencing within the wider countryside. The resulting pattern of land use is one where almost all farmland is either arable or capable of being mown for silage or hay, and the rest of the land is essentially all forested. There is very little in the way of rough grazing or unimproved permanent pasture.
Bavaria grows a full range of arable crops, including a high proportion of maize, which is used as biofuel as well as a feed crop for livestock. On the floodplain of the Danube and it’s tributary rivers, the soils are very flat and fertile, and are obviously very productive. These areas are very much more extensive than anything we have in Scotland. A system of beaver management that works in this area is likely to work in Scotland as well.
Although the fields appear to be very extensive, they usually comprise a multiple ownership, with different farmers having scattered parcels of land in different areas, and boundaries are marked with stones. Within this, the state agencies or local councils own up to 50 percent of land in some areas, and this is mixed in with the privately owned areas. Much of the land is leased to bigger farmers. Buying and selling and swapping parcels of land to create more consolidated holdings is commonplace, and has a real relevance to the beaver debate, see below. It gives local authorities a great deal of power in how they go about their wider business.
Beavers were introduced to Bavaria in the 1960’s, and for the first 20 years or so, they had little impact on agriculture, the prime habitat being within nature reserves and along main rivers where they could exist without impacting on other land uses. In the 1980’s, as numbers grew, the animals then started to move out in to sub-optimal habitat, which included drainage ditches through farms. With the very extensive areas of low lying, fertile ground, this quickly became a problem. High value crops were at risk, and because all fields were harvested, burrows and higher water tables became a real problem.
The farmers’ union in Bavaria is very strong, and they campaigned to put a management system in place so that problem situations could be addressed. Such a system, utilizing derogations, was implemented from the mid- 1990’s, and farmers now think that a workable scheme is in place.
When pressed if they would have beavers if they had the choice, they would say “No”. However, there is a widespread recognition that these are native animals in Bavaria and that they should try to work with them, as their ancestors would have done. Beavers are very obviously now a part of the local culture, and many farmers had a role as part time beaver consultants and trappers.
The derogations allow farmers to remove non-natal dams, and individual animals can be trapped and culled where this is the only practical solution. The Bavarian State Government will have an annual compensation fund of 450,000 euros, which can be used to compensate for machinery damage or crop loss. As this is EU funding, 80 percent of each claim is paid. The percentage is reduced if the budget is under pressure. Most farmers choose to ignore minor crop damage, although others will try to manipulate the compensation scheme. Beaver consultants have learned not to bow to every demand. Invariably, they were a part of the local farming/ hunting community, and would know how best to approach such situations, which buttons to push and how to exert pressure on farmers not to push their luck too far. Access to fields via road systems was very good, and this allowed easy access to dams if required. This would often not be the case in Scotland. Farmers tended to understand the biology and ecology of the beavers, and this helped when devising solutions to problems.
Local authorities often used their own land to alleviate beaver management issues, by swapping or selling parcels of land in exchange for riparian strips which they could then manage for buffer zones alongside watercourses. Land swaps were normal in Bavaria anyway, and it was difficult to tell how much was done just for beaver mitigation, but the farmers usually seen an opportunity to consolidate their own holdings and were willing to consider beaver mitigation proposals that included such exchange of land. Funded buffer strips and beaver deceivers were also in evidence. A view was expressed that if you had no beaver problems in an area, then the watercourses had sufficient space around them, and this would contribute to fulfilling the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive.
It is farm crops that fuel the beaver population across much of Bavaria, and in many areas they can survive quite happily without any trees at all, especially in the west of the country. Root crops and maize are their favourites, with the latter being used in dams as well as being stored for winter feeding. Well-worn beaver tracks heading off to arable fields were a common sight throughout the trip. Sacrificial root crops for diversionary feeding during the winter months may well be a useful management strategy in Scotland in future, to keep beavers away from vulnerable habitats.
Beavers would not be tolerated in Bavaria by farmers if there was not a management system in place for dealing with problem situations. A strong message was given to us that such a system needed to be in place BEFORE any re-introduction was contemplated in Scotland. Otherwise, opposition from farmers and other land owning interests could be expected to be intense.
While many farmers seen the beavers as something that needed to be managed and would probably not have them if given the choice, others would concede that they did help restore groundwater reserves and that beavers were a net benefit to them in dry summers.
As in Bavaria, beaver impacts in Scotland are first likely to become an issue on farmland, not on fisheries, infra-structure or forestry. The message from the tour was not to under-estimate these issues, but that they could be resolved if solutions were developed well in advance and if funding was made available to cover the costs.
Forestry is a major integrated land use in Bavaria, much more so that in Scotland, especially in the east of the country. The German forests are part of their very being as a country, defining part of their national character. The opposite situation exists in Scotland where forests are traditionally seen as places of refuge for dangerous wild animals and bandits.
As with agriculture, forestry ownership was complex and locally managed, with a high proportion of the population having access to woodland for working. Management is highly regulated, and based on continuous cover models reliant on natural regeneration. In the Bavarian Forest, beech and spruce were the dominant species, co-existing together, and being grown to a very high standard. Ash, willow, aspen and oak formed an important component of the overall forest. The forest area was interspersed with farmland and housing, and access roads were good.
Although compensation for damage to forestry by beavers was available, it was rarely required. While beavers took trees close to watercourses, they rarely took trees of significant economic value. Where local damage to spruce or beech was reported, it was usually because of other circumstances. Eg A beaver might damage trees in the vicinity of a game feeding station, and changing the location of this would remedy the situation. However, the topography in eastern Bavaria was such that beavers rarely took trees other than the willows and aspen close to watercourses.
In the west of the country, farmland predominated, and tree cover was very much more limited, and the beavers existed primarily on arable crops. Most narrow strips of trees showed some signs of beavers. In some areas, many big poplars and willows were ring barked and killed, or local flooding might make access to a woodland area for extraction of timber difficult. However, in general, beavers were only a problem for high value specimen trees and trees within towns, and these were usually individually protected, either with mesh wire or with sand paint. While there was obviously a cost to doing this, it was not apparent that such effort was begrudged.
Beavers do not adversely impact the woodland area in Bavaria to any significant extent, and are unlikely to do so in Scotland either. We will however need to have strategy in place for protecting high value trees and those within towns and villages.
As previously outlined, beavers are not dependant on tree cover for their survival.
Future Funding for Beaver Management in Scotland
During the trip, consideration was given as to what sort of grant scheme would be suited to encourage or reward the creation of beaver habitat in Scotland. Currently, the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) is the main source of grant funding, although limited funding is also available from SNH or SEPA.
A funding mechanism for beaver management in Scotland would have three main strands:
1 A compensation fund to cover loss of crops and damage to machinery or infra-structure. It is anticipated that such provision would work on a similar basis to that in Bavaria, with claims being paid annually at an intervention rate of 75 or 80%.
2 A means of paying annual management payments for habitat created
3 In any given situation, over and above such provision, advice and technical input will be required, and the capacity for delivering this will have to be developed independently of whatever grant funding mechanism is in place.
This report concentrates on how management payments might best be delivered.
SRDP or No?
It is easy to see why beaver habitat creation/ management would create difficulties within SRDP.
In the normal course of events, an SRDP application involves the applicant setting out how much habitat is going to be created and where. A maximum level of funding is allowed for within the contract, and contracts are typically for 5 or 10 years, with the exception of Farmland Premium payments for woodlands which extend to 15 years.
It is rarely possible to anticipate when beavers might arrive in an area, or what area they will impact on when they do. Typically, an initial area of perhaps a few hectares will expand as a family grows, and beavers can create a series of dams to allow access to areas that might not have been anticipated at the outset. Within a 5-10 year period therefore, a beaver impacted area will grow at a rate determined by the beaver, not the SRDP contract, and the bureaucracy of dealing with this is unlikely to be practicable within the current system. Over and above this, beavers may create habitat quickly and without warning, and applications would have to be submitted in retrospect. Again, this is unlikely to be compliant with SRDP, especially as the area would expand year on year and require constant variations.
A 5 or 10 year contract would be unlikely to persuade a farmer to retain habitat created, especially as it would be very difficult to reverse the changes made at a later date. Many farmers are reluctant to plant trees because they are uncertain of income beyond the 15 year point. A commitment to longer term funding would be required.
The final problem would be that because watercourses often mark the boundary between farms, newly created beaver habitat is likely to be situated on more than one property, and the area impacted on each is unlikely to justify the costs of individual SRDP applications.
I am now certainly off the opinion that SRDP is not the best vehicle for awarding or compensating farmers for retaining beaver created habitat.
The German model of swapping or purchasing areas of land to be set aside as beaver compensation areas or riparian strips would not be applicable in Scotland as land ownership patterns are totally different here, and small, isolated areas in the ownership of another party are likely to cause all sorts of problems.
However, one aspect of the German model could be used in Scotland.
In many local authority areas in Bavaria, housing developers are required to create natural habitats to compensate for the equivalent area given over to development. Typically, they fund the purchase of beaver- created habitat, which is then owned by the local authority.
Purchase of land in this manner is very unlikely to be applicable in Scotland. However, it may well be possible that a local authority, NGO or possibly SEPA could administer a simple scheme whereby development money could be used to pay annual management payments to farmers for a 25 year period, as mitigation against other land being developed. All beaver created habitat within a defined administrative area would be mapped on an annual basis, and the co-ordinating organization would ensure that sufficient income was available to pay for this area from development within that area. The developer would have a 25 year contract with the co-ordinating body, at which point his commitment would be spent. The developer could opt to pay the whole sum due up front, giving the co-ordinating organization funds to invest in other ways, giving them greater flexibility in other projects. The farmer would have an ongoing contract with the co-ordinating body, renewed at the 25 year mark, to ensure on going commitment to the retention of that habitat. It may well be that several developers are supporting a particular project, especially if the extent of that project increases. Habitat created across ownership boundaries would be easier to account for.
Such a scheme could take funds from other sources, and could be used to create other habitats such as woodland or wildflower meadows as well as beaver habitat. It may also be an appropriate mechanism for providing management payments for areas of floodplain, or buffer zones to reduce nutrient run-off. This sort of arrangement would be a significant change from the normal way in which we grant aid habitat creation in Scotland, but it would allow for the flexibility required, and the sums of money involved would be affordable for developers.
It is recommended that an annual payment of £400 per hectare per year be considered, which could be made up in part by the retention of Single Farm Payment on the area. However, SFP and the obligations and conditions associated with this are likely to change several times within a 25 year period. It is this changing bureaucracy that would constitute the biggest barrier to development of a suitable scheme.
Beaver Habitat Provision- The Basics
Unlike woodland creation or implementation of agri-environment schemes, we cannot plan in advance where wild beavers might want to establish themselves, or when they might do this. We can speculate, but we cannot know for sure.
The requirement therefore is for a simple scheme that can be entered once beavers have become established and have created a local impact that affects a significant area of land. The application period should be as short as possible, and entry to the scheme should be more or less assured if it is judged that such newly created habitat should be secured. In effect, applications are being made retrospectively.
As the beaver does the work, there will be no direct capital outlay in creating the habitat as such (as there would be for conventional woodland creation), but there would be a requirement to put together an agreed mitigation plan, take specialist advice, and liaise with neighbours, as well as in making an application for the proposed scheme.
It is anticipated that in most situations, the area concerned will usually be less than 1-2 hectares in extent, often much less than this. For this reason, it is suggested that a minimum area of 1 ha be grant funded, even if only part of this is impacted. The level of detail expected in the application should therefore be consistent with a small 1-2 ha woodland creation scheme. If more significant areas where involved, then additional information or even an EIA may be required, as per the current woodland creation system.
There may be a requirement for capital outlay to secure the habitat, depending on circumstances, but it should not be assumed that this will always be necessary. The likely requirements might be for stock fencing to keep livestock back from wet habitats, or the installation of flow devices (or “beaver deceivers”) to mitigate and control pond levels within a given area. A payment of £300 should be enough to cover this.
There should be no requirement that trees are planted within the habitat area. However, it is likely that within 8- 10 years that self-sown native trees will become established. If trees are to be established in the wider area, connected with beaver habitat creation or not, then they should be applied for separately under a different option within the overall application.
It is not anticipated that such an option would be implemented until after 2015 at the earliest, although it may be that the option can be tested in advance by paying an equivalent sum in compensation through other means in a pilot trial.
It is very unlikely that farmers would sanction the reintroduction of beavers on a more widespread basis until they were comfortable with how such a scheme would work in practice. This was one of the key messages we took from Bavaria. The system of management has to be in place in advance.
The approach and outlook taken in Bavaria
Please note that the below reflects my personal observations, views and opinions and not the position or policy of my employer.
For my part of the group’s report, I agreed to look specifically at how the Bavarians had overcome or managed attitudes, which could otherwise might have presented barriers to successful beaver management.
Beavers in Bavaria are a success. After what I saw on this trip, there is no doubt in my mind. Since their first re-release in 1966, their population has grown to 15,000. There exist conflicts between beavers and human interests but these seem on the whole to be well managed.
Our host, Gerhard Schwab, showed us flooded agricultural fields, damaged crops, felled trees, undermined flood defences, threatened railway embankments and undercut roads. We also saw (and rescued) a beaver trapped in the concrete channels of a sewage treatment work. This looked at least as unpleasant for the beaver as it must have been annoying for the plant’s workers.
The management responses to all the issues we witnessed were swift and practical. In some cases they seemed to me surprisingly un-emotional and un-bureaucratic – some of them I felt were almost cavalier in their approach. Yet, it was obvious that Gerhard and the volunteer beaver managers cared passionately about beavers. They had pictures of beavers on their vehicles, they were wearing beaver t-shirts but they were also prepared to trap and even shoot individual animals as a normal part of their work.
Whatever the method, the evidence clearly showed that beavers are once again firmly re-established in Bavaria. Yet, almost 700 beavers were killed under derogation last year and numerous dams were removed to avoid conflicts with humans. Despite this, there is no evidence that the removal of beavers has a negative effect on Bavaria’s beaver population. In fact, they are still increasing in numbers and expanding their range into neighbouring German states.
On the other hand, we also found evidence that people, who are adversely affected by beavers accept that not every instance of damage triggers automatic compensation. We met a representative of the Farmers’ Union who indicated that farmers tend to tolerate some beaver damage to their crop. Farmers, as well as foresters and water managers also seem to have learned to be ‘beaver wise’ when planning their activities and when managing their land – just like they would e.g. with regards to deer. It seemed to me that all parties involved applied common sense and people and organisations were prepared to move at least a little bit out of their comfort zone to make it work.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, we came across evidence that not everyone is happy with this common sense approach. We saw an article in a local paper about beaver damage to a river bank in the town of Fürstenfeldbruck. The writer was questioning whether the municipalities’ tolerance of beavers may have gone too far. Gerhard also mentioned that there are sometimes problems with some pro beaver campaigners sabotaging traps set by beaver managers to relocate or kill beavers. As far as I understand, some European member states are also questioning the Bavarian interpretation of European law, especially regards the relatively high number of derogations issued for beaver management.
Gerhard kept reminding us that the current approach to beaver management evolved over time. In the sixties and seventies, we were told, there were more conflicts and people’s positions over beavers were more extreme, on both sides. It is of course easier for the Bavarian conservationists to be more relaxed about beaver protection now that there are 15,000 of them than it would have been in the sixties, when the population was still much smaller.
Even if the Scottish Government decides to officially re-introduce the beaver to Scotland, it will take us some years or decades to catch up with Bavaria. It is difficult to say, how much of the Bavarian approach can or should be applied here in Scotland – and at what point Scottish beavers would be established enough to allow for Bavarian style management.
However, I found what I saw in Bavaria a creative and refreshingly unconventional approach to the re-introduction of a once lost species and its subsequent management, which, if we decided to adopt it here in Scotland, may well have the potential to bring people and organisations closer together over the task of caring for our environment.