Beavers in the UK: implications of legal protection in England

Beavers in the UK: implications of legal protection in England

This short article provides a summary of recent changes in legislation concerning Eurasian beaver, and their implications in terms of the planning process.

Legal Protection

In October 2022, as a result of The Beavers (England) Order, the beaver was added to Schedule 2 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. This legislation makes it an offence to deliberately capture, injure, kill or disturb beavers, or damage and destroy their breeding sites or resting places. Releases of individuals into the wild remain prohibited without a licence. Beavers have been afforded equivalent level of protection in Scotland since 2019, but no changes to Welsh legislation have been made or are currently proposed to the best of our knowledge.

Current Range

These legal changes reflect the fact that this formerly extinct species has been the subject of reintroductions for over a decade by organisations including the National Trust, Wildlife Trusts, the RSPB and private land owners. As of August 2021[1], wild living populations established in England by releases or dispersal from released populations, were known on the Rivers Otter (Devon), Stour (Kent), Tamar (and some tributaries) (Devon), Avon, Frome and Brue (Somerset and Wiltshire), Little Dart (Devon), and the River Wye (Herefordshire). The species is also known to be present in the River Wye catchment in Wales and further reintroductions are being planned, including in North Wales. It is likely that beavers are expanding their range in England, Wales and Scotland (where it is already widespread) and juveniles are known to undertake long dispersal movements, meaning the species could be present away from known populations.

Implications for Planning

As a result of this new protection in England, developers and their consultants will need to ensure that beavers are considered when planning surveys where suitable beaver habitat is present on or near proposed development sites.

Natural England have released guidance relating to beavers. This indicates that licences will be issued for certain purposes and activities which would otherwise constitute an offence under the Regulations. Currently the licence application process appears to be primarily aimed at land owners and managers concerned about impacts on crops and property. It remains unclear as to what route would be taken to secure a licence to permit activities constituting an offence as a result of proposed development (such as removing damns, lodges or burrows or disturbing these). However it is likely that these would be granted by Natural England to individuals on a site-by-site basis. Depending on the circumstances, licensed work might need to be restricted to the period between 1 September and 28 February to avoid the breeding season.

BSG Ecology’s experienced protected species specialists have been keeping up to date with legislative changes and emerging guidance on beaver, have received external and internal training on the ecology of the species, and have undertaken visits to sites where beavers are present.

If you require a beaver survey, or would like advice on beavers and the planning process, please contact one of our offices.

[1] Natural England (2021). Beaver reintroductions in England – 2000 – 2021.

 

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