Beavers given legal protection without clear management plan

First published: 22 July 2022

A picture of a beaver nibbling on a stick in water

NFU President Minette Batters responds to the government's last-minute decision to introduce new legislation to give beavers legal protection status without a clear management plan, following its consultation in 2021.

21 July 2022

NFU responds to beavers being given legal protection by government

minette 2021 31_80435

Responding to the news that the government has introduced legislation that establishes the legal protection of beavers, NFU President Minette Batters said:

“It is unacceptable that the government has pushed through this legislation at the last minute before summer recess with absolutely no detail and vague platitudes that there will be a management plan published in ‘due course’.

“With the clear impact beavers can have on agricultural land, a clear management plan following consultation with farmers was the least the government should have created before introducing this legislation.

“Farmers are continuing to work around the clock to produce the nation’s food and they will be rightly asking why the government is introducing this last-minute legislation in the same week that it couldn’t find parliamentary time to scrutinise the UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

“It is imperative that Defra now brings plans forward to manage beavers and their potential impact as soon as possible.”

19 November 2021

Long-term plans needed before beavers are reintroduced

We have submitted our formal response to Defra's proposed approach to the future releases of beavers into the wild. 

Member briefing: NFU response to the consultation on beaver reintroductions

Defra has said that beavers will become a protected species and consulted on approaches to their reintroduction, including managing the impacts of beavers. The NFU’s consultation response makes it clear that we do not support this decision and we are concerned that the long term impacts of beavers across catchments are not fully understood.

The NFU’s legal team has reviewed this position and cannot find a route to challenge the Defra decision to protect the species. We urge Defra to use the utmost caution with where releases are to be permitted and for impacts across the whole catchment to be assessed first. More action is also needed to address illegal releases of beavers.  

Following Defra's consultation on the reestablishment of beavers in England, NFU environment forum chairman Richard Bramley explained our response.

“The potential impacts that beavers can have on agricultural land are of concern to the NFU; undermining riverbanks, damaging trees, impeding farmland drainage and causing low-lying fields to flood."

Importance of long-term planning

In our consultation response we have made it clear that any beaver reintroduction must be strictly licensed by Natural England and stressed the importance that an approved licence must include a long-term management plan, developed with local farmers and backed with adequate funding.

Mr Bramley continued: "Where there is a financial impact on a farm business, adequate compensation should also be made and an exit strategy in place should major issues occur.

“The government has made it clear that it will sanction reestablishment of beavers, so we will work with them, Natural England and all interested parties to ensure farmers are able to continue producing climate-friendly food, as well as care for the great British countryside and progress towards a net zero future.”

Our response to the Defra consultation on the reintroduction of beavers in England is available for download for members, with some key points discussed below.

Full impact assessment needed

As the consultation is based on one trial, there needs to be a full impact assessment. More research is needed, and a longer-term approach required beyond the proposed 15 years to understand the impact.

Beavers should not be a protected species

We do not support Defra's proposal to make beavers a protected species. We believe this makes it harder to manage them. Their status should be more limited and focus on the current beaver population.

Need robust framework

Robust framework must be put in place by Defra before licences to release beavers can be issued. Farmers and land managers must have their concerns addressed before a licence can be issued. The option to appeal a licence must be available to farmers and land managers too.

Specialist crops should be considered

When it comes to specialist crops such as cricket bat willow, there is no evidence that adverse impacts caused by beavers can be managed.

Concerns about liver fluke

There is a concern about liver fluke in livestock due to wetter ground supporting the mud snail. 

What about landlord-tenant issues

The consultation does not take into consideration any landlord-tenant issues. There is also a risk that those involved in Countryside Stewardship and ELM could breach agreements through no fault of their own.

Support for adverse impact

We believe Defra should support farmers who have to deal with the adverse impact of beavers, and unlawful populations should be removed. There should also be support for local communities to deal with the relocation of beaver populations.

Simple, low-cost licences

Licences should be simple and low-cost. Guidance on licences should be impartial and practical and available to farmers in a variety of ways, from peer-to-peer learning to videos and events. 

Caution and regular reviews

We urge Defra to be cautious in their approach and to regularly review their plans. 

17 November 2021

Consultation closes

This consultation closed on 17 November 2021. 

24 August 2021

Beaver reintroduction and management consultation: Have your say

The NFU will be responding to the beaver reintroduction and management consultation and is inviting members to feed into our response.

Defra plans to release beavers into the wild in England marks a step towards establishing native beaver populations. 

It has launched a consultation that will run until 17 November relating to beavers in England only.

Under the government’s proposals, applications for licences to release beavers into the wild would need to meet certain criteria, including demonstrating positive stakeholder engagement and local buy in, and proof that a comprehensive assessment has been undertaken of the impacts on surrounding land, the water environment, infrastructures, habitats, and protected species.

Projects must also ensure that support for landowners and river users is put in place.

Read more about the consultation at: GOV.UK | Consultation on approach to beaver reintroduction and management in England

Have your say in the consultation

The NFU will be responding to the consultation and would like to hear from members, especially when it comes to impact on farm business, to help inform our response.

We have pulled out specific questions and given high-level analysis of the consultation document in the NFU member-only briefing below to help you develop and communicate your views.

Please read the briefing and send feedback to Alisha Anstee by 5pm on 8 October 2021.

Member briefing: Consultation on approach to beaver reintroduction and management in England

A picture of Richard Bramley

Responding to the launch of a consultation, NFU environment forum chairman Richard Bramley said:

“British farmers and growers are experts at making the most of their natural environment to produce climate-friendly food.

“It is positive that any reintroduction will be strictly licensed by Natural England and it is important any approved licensing includes a long-term management plan, developed with local farmers and backed with adequate funding. Any impact on a farmer’s ability to produce food needs to be included as part of a full impact assessment carried out before any licence is issued.

“We must remember that beaver reintroductions can have negative impacts - potentially undermining riverbanks, damaging trees, impeding farmland drainage and causing low-lying fields to flood.

“Where there is a financial impact on a farm business, adequate compensation must be made and an exit strategy must be in place should major issues occur.

“We are committed to working with Natural England and interested parties to deliver the best outcomes.”

24 September 2020

Defra plans to consult on beaver management

Defra has confirmed that, after a five year trial, beavers can remain in their home in the River Otter in Devon. The beavers will be allowed to continue to expand their range naturally, finding new areas to settle as they need.

This will be the first population of beavers in the countryside for 400 years.

Devon Wildlife Trust, who ran the trial, reported the environmental benefits the beavers have brought to the local area, including enhancing the environment at a local wildlife site, wetland habitat creation, and reducing flood risk for housing downstream.

Management and approach

Defra recognise the land managers concerns around beavers impacting on farmland and plan to launch a public consultation later this year on the management of beavers in the wild and national approach for any further releases.

The NFU will engage with government on the public consultation. When the consultation is published, the NFU will be seeking members’ views from across the country.

Our concerns

The NFU has always held concerns that beavers can have a significant local impact on the countryside and farming, from creating dams that can undermine riverbanks to impeding farmland drainage with waterlogged fields becoming unsuitable for grazing or cropping, all leading to serious implications on our ability to produce food.

The NFU has been calling on Defra for a long-term management plan for naturalised beaver populations that offers support to those local farmers and rural communities affected.

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Summary

  • NFU President Minette Batters says a clear management plan following consultation with farmers was the least the government should have created before introducing legislation to give beavers legal protection.
  • This follows a consultation launched in August 2021 on the government's approach to the reintroduction of Eurasian beavers.
  • In 2014 a five-year trial started to investigate the effects of wild-living populations of beavers on the River Otter.
  • The NFU has always held concerns that beavers can have a significant local impact on the countryside and farming, from creating dams that can undermine riverbanks to impeding farmland drainage with waterlogged fields becoming unsuitable for grazing or cropping, all leading to serious implications on our ability to produce food. 
  • The NFU has been calling on Defra for a long-term management plan for naturalised beaver populations that reduces the impact on our farmers' ability to produce food..