NFU criticises 'last minute' legislation giving beavers legal protection

Farming groups have raised concern over the release of beavers, as their activity can undermine riverbanks and impede farmland drainage
Farming groups have raised concern over the release of beavers, as their activity can undermine riverbanks and impede farmland drainage

The NFU has criticised the government for setting out 'no clear management plan' for farmers after announcing 'last minute' legislation which gives legal protection to beavers.

The legislation, which comes into effect from 1 October, means it will be illegal to kill or harm beavers in England as they will be formally recognised as native wildlife.

The government said the law change would establish the legal mechanism to 'strictly manage' the release of the animals and their control after release.

It builds on the programme of work started in 2014, including a five-year trial to investigate the effects of wild-living populations of beavers on the River Otter.

In 2020, Defra published the evaluation of the results of that trial, and the government then launched a consultation which closed in November 2021 on its proposed management approach.

The government said further details on the management regime would be published 'in due course', despite rising concern within the farming industry.

The NFU and other industry bodies say beaver activity can undermine riverbanks and impede farmland drainage, making fields too waterlogged for cropping or grazing.

More work must to be done to understand the implications for farmers, the industry says, and for the government to ensure that all potential impacts are carefully considered.

Responding to the new legislation, NFU President Minette Batters said it was 'unacceptable' that the government had pushed it through before summer recess.

She criticised the government for unveiling "absolutely no detail and vague platitudes" on the beaver management plan.

“With the 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 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."

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

Environmental groups have largely welcomed the legislation, but the Wildlife Trusts called for "sensible management guidance and incentives for landowners".

Craig Bennett, chief executive of the charity said: “It is important that guidance is now developed quickly to bring farmers on board with reintroductions, providing reassurance and, crucially, incentives to make space for beavers on their land."