OFFICIALS have defended their £2m beaver trial currently underway in Scotland from claims it is pointless.
The Scottish Wildlife Trist (SWT) is monitoring a group of 12 beavers at Knapdale, in rural Mid-Argyll, with a view to reintroducing them to Scotland.
But the trial has attracted criticism after it emerged around 100 beavers are living wild in and around parts of the River Tay.
The animals are thought to have escaped from private collections or been deliberately released by landowners.
The Scottish Government said it will allow the “unlicensed” Tay beavers to stay put until the end of the official beaver trial in 2015.
Some critics of the official trial have said this makes a mockery of the SWT work in Argyll, as beavers have already been released in Scotland.
But Simon Milne, chief executive of SWT, defended the project.
He said: “The trial is now even more important because the future of beavers in Scotland will be decided by the government in two or three years.
“That needs to be based on good scientific evidence, and the Scottish beaver trial is providing that evidence – it is a full scientific trial.
“Using baseline data we can monitor the impact of the beaver on the habitat. The Tay has no baseline data.
“The future of beavers on the Tay rests very much on the outcome of the monitoring that is going on in Knapdale.”
He said the trial had brought considerable economic benefits to Mid Argyll.
Mr Milne added: “We have for four people employed on the trial, plus a number of volunteers engaged. That is not an insignificant number of people in a small rural area like Knapdale.
“And more importantly, there is an increasing number of people who are being attracted to the area to see the beavers.
“We shouldn’t be surprised by this since other reintroductions such as white-tailed sea eagles on Mull and red kites in Dumfries and Galloway have also attracted visitors.”
Jane Allan, of Seafield Farm, Achnamara, which is close to the site of the official beaver trial in Knapdale Forest, called for the Scottish Wildlife Trust project to be abandoned, calling it a: “nonsense”.
Stewart Stevenson, the Scottish Environment Minister, said that the stay of execution had come about because “there is potential for an important and unwelcome precedent to be set, so we must consider environmental and other impacts”.
Some of the beavers living around the Tay are believed to have escaped from private collections or been deliberately released.
The move follows a report from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) which had outlined three options, the most extreme of which involved killing the creatures. They are believed to cause damage to rivers and trees.
David Bale from SNH, who will lead the monitoring group, said: “The information about Tayside beavers, along with comprehensive research from the Scottish Beaver Trial at Knapdale and other sources, should give the minister a full range of information to make his decision in 2015.