Beavers to be given protected status in England

From 1 October 2022, beavers will have Protected Status in England. They will be listed on Schedule 2 to the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. This will make it an offence to deliberately capture, kill, disturb, or injure beavers, or damage their breeding sites or resting places. See below for more details .

It is the WTT’s view that protected status, combined with the proposed licensing régime will make beaver management difficult, slow and ineffective, for example in responding to blockage to smolt migration downstream caused by beaver dams. See WTT Director, Shaun Leonard’s email to Defra below.

It is an apparent peculiarity that grayling and Atlantic salmon do not have Protected Status in the UK, although they are listed in the same EU convention (Bern Convention Appendix III) used to protect beavers. 

For more information about beavers, go to our Beaver Resource Hub, which includes information about the science of beaver/​trout interactions, beavers facts and myths and the WTT view on beaver introductions.

Beaver Dam Peter Collen
Beaver female with kits 1 M Iike Symes comp

Photos: Peter Collen and Mike Symes

Communication from the Defra Species Recovery and Reintroductions Team, 15/7/2022

As announced during Defra’s 2021 consultation on the approach to beaver reintroduction and management in England, Government will be bringing forward legislation to provide Eurasian beavers legal protection in England. This will implement our international legal obligations stemming from the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention).

Beavers will be given protection by listing them on Schedule 2 to the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. This will make it an offence to deliberately capture, kill, disturb, or injure beavers, or damage their breeding sites or resting places.

The legislation will also amend Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to move Eurasian beavers from Part 1B of Schedule 9 Animals no longer normally present’ to Part 1A of Schedule 9 Native animals.’ This variation will retain the requirement for a licence to be issued in order to release Eurasian beavers into the wild. It will though remove the option to use species control orders (which are usually used to mandate control of non-native species) as this conflicts with the protected status of the species. 

This legislation will be laid in Parliament on Tuesday 19 July 2022 and protection will come into force on 1 October 2022. 

Natural England are continuing to develop guidance on the management of beavers, with input from key stakeholders. Following the coming into force of legal protection this will set out which management actions will or will not require a licence, and where stakeholders can go for advice and support. This guidance will be published on GOV​.UK in the autumn to complement the change in legal protection coming into force. 

WTT Director, Shaun Leonard’s email to Defra, March 2022 (as yet, no reply received)

The Wild Trout Trust responded to Defra’s consultation last autumn, I hope with a positive and constructive tone that welcomes beavers and what they might do for river conservation, our charitable mission. We, as with many other respondents, argued for a national strategy and the need for responsive and rapid management, in our case to protect unintended impacts for migrating fish. I know that many dismiss this issue, arguing co-evolution and co-existence, but that it is not the view of my expert colleagues who, collectively can offer nigh-on two hundred professional years in fisheries research and practical management. To our minds, beaver dams will, in some/​many places in England, negatively impact fish populations through impediment of essential migration (especially juveniles) and quite possibly locally through habitat alteration.

My main reason for writing now is on the subject of Protected Status for beavers. I understand of course that this was not part of the consultation (though we commented on it in our response) and have been told in several Defra/​NE workshops that UK Govt is obliged to specially protect the animal under the Bern Convention; there is, we’ve been told, no debate. However, I would welcome your view on the matter and plead for a rethink. 

I can see that Appendix III of the Convention does indeed list the Eurasian beaver, but so does it list grayling and Atlantic salmon, neither of which have been given special Protected Status, despite the acknowledged imperilled status of the latter across England (and beyond). The protection of beavers at this stage, until we fully understand what will happen in England’s massively modified and populated landscape, will make rapid, effective and responsive management practically extremely difficult, maybe impossible, quite aside from who does it and/​or how it’s funded. Having spent nearly forty years working with government environmental licensing agencies, I can attest to a view that those arrangements are very, very rarely rapid and responsive. I mean no criticism of any individual here – it is actually a recognition that such systems can never be thorough and as responsive and rapid as beaver management will necessitate to protect against unintended consequences. Those of my colleagues who have migrated from the Environment Agency and thus have seen such licensing/​permitting systems inside and out, agree unreservedly. I understand that class licensing is the currently considered route for low impact intervention but even that will not allow us the management flexibility that we will require for a wild animal without comparison in its capacity to reshape the English landscape. Further, I would question why at this stage beavers require special protection – if they prove to be the gamechanger that we hope and are so widely popular with people, they should face no persecution. If that situation changes, then protect them. It is surely easier to protect at a later date rather than face the trickier proposition of unprotecting them in some future time if things are not as hoped.