JUST before Christmas, at the COP15 UN biodiversity summit in Canada, the world’s nations agreed a historic deal to protect 30% of the planet for nature by 2030.

A few days previously, RSPB Scotland had announced that its application to move a family of beavers to its Loch Lomond nature reserve had been successful.

There are clear dots joining these global and local announcements. Scotland is party to the COP15 agreement, and has already made an international commitment to “bold action”.

Beavers, meanwhile, can be key allies in tackling the nature and climate emergencies. They create nature-rich wetlands that benefit a remarkable cascade of species, while reducing flooding, improving water quality and soaking up carbon dioxide. The presence of beavers can also benefit local economies through eco-tourism.

So could 2023 be the year that we see beavers being reintroduced widely across Scotland? For that to happen, Scotland’s Government bodies, which between them manage 10% of the country’s land, need to step up.

In early 2022, biodiversity minister Lorna Slater asked these bodies to lead in moving beavers to new areas. This followed the minister’s November 2021 announcement that the Scottish Government would actively support the expansion of Scotland’s beaver population, bringing the huge environmental benefits of these “ecosystem engineers” to new areas.

Moving beavers from where they are unwanted, due to impacts on farmland, to areas where they are welcome would also help to almost eliminate the licensed killing – some would say needless slaughter – of 10% of Scotland’s beaver population each year, while benefitting farmers at the same time.

Yet unfortunately, the RSPB Scotland application to relocate beavers within Scotland was the only one made during the entire year. MSPs are currently signing a motion congratulating the RSPB on this achievement, but calling for public bodies and wildlife charities to do more.

Concerned at the apparent lack of action by key public agencies, the Scottish Rewilding Alliance wrote an open letter to them asking what – if anything – they were doing to fulfil the Biodiversity Minister’s instructions. Most of the replies we have received are far from reassuring.

In its reply to us, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park could cite no strong proactive measures it is taking. This compares poorly with the Cairngorms National Park Authority, which has already announced that it will lead in bringing beavers back to the park. The Cairngorms National Park is setting exactly the example that government agencies should be following.

Scottish Water and Crown Estate Scotland – which own 22,500 hectares and 35,565 hectares respectively – both indicated a willingness to consider beavers being released on suitable land, but they would need to discuss the possibility with their tenants and neighbours. Such discussions and consultations are extremely important, but no timescale or commitment was given.

Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS), meanwhile, manages a massive 640,000 hectares of Scotland. Many of the waterways on the agency’s land are already known to be highly suitable for beavers. FLS identified 10 possible sites for beaver releases last year and – in welcome moves – FLS says it is keen to find sites avoiding interests such as farming, and it will be appointing a Beaver Officer to lead in consulting communities in those areas.

Other signs of positive progress have included FLS being part of a consortium of five landowners who are interested in pursuing an application to release beavers in Glen Affric and Strathglass, and it has been working with Trees for Life on public consultations in that area of the Highlands.

But FLS has indicated that it will only progress beaver releases on three sites and may focus on areas close to where beavers are already present. Is this bold and ambitious enough, and is it in line with the wishes of a beaver-supporting government and public who are actually the owners of this land? I would suggest that bolder action is going to be required from our biggest manager of pubic land.

We also wrote to NatureScot. In reply, the agency highlighted all of its welcome and necessary work to help deliver Scotland’s new policy for beavers, including steering production of a national strategy to aid the species’ return and manage any problems. NatureScot has identified 17 sites that could be suitable on land that it owns or manages, and indicates a desire to be proactive.

Making the time and effort to discuss beaver reintroductions with communities is fundamental to success. This requires time, openness and energy.

But I think it is reasonable to expect beavers to have been released to many new areas of Scotland by government bodies by next Christmas, when the world will be marking the first anniversary of the COP15 agreement.

This means we should expect a series of releases of beavers on FLS and Crown Estate Scotland sites in the Spey and its many tributaries as a result of the leadership already being shown by the Cairngorms National Park.

With its Beaver Officer in post, FLS should relocate beavers to at least five sites across Scotland. Similarly, NatureScot should be releasing beavers in at least three sites that it owns or manages.

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park should also follow the lead of the Cairngorms, proactively seeking beaver release sites within its boundaries and leading on consultations.

And if Scottish Water wakes up to the fact that beavers could do a lot of very useful waterways management for free, 2023 could mark both a turning point for beavers – setting Scotland more firmly on its path to becoming a rewilding nation.

These are very reasonable expectations given the pace and scale of the biodiversity and climate crises.

If these public bodies are kept to account by ministers and the public, Scotland’s commitments to delivering bold action for biodiversity and climate can become a reality.

Steve Micklewright is the convenor of the Scottish Rewilding Alliance (www.rewild.scot) and chief executive of rewilding charity Trees For Life (treesforlife.org.uk)