FARMERS have expressed serious concerns over the “devastating” impacts of a planned expansion of Scotland’s wild beaver population into the Cairngorms National Park.

The park authority (CNPA) announced this week it is on the verge of applying for a licence to release more than a dozen of the animals at three sites in the upper Spey valley, between Kingussie and Aviemore.

It will be the first reintroduction of wild beavers to the Cairngorm area, confirming Scottish Government policy of spreading the animals across all of Scotland.

More than a dozen animals will be trapped in Tayside, where they are flooding roads or fields, then released on the Spey. If the licence is approved it could happen before the end of the year.

READ MORE: Beavers to be released in two new Scottish locations after licences approved

CNPA wants beavers because their dams will enhance wetlands, boost biodiversity, and help prevent flooding lower down the river by slowing the flow of water.

A public consultation which just ended found three-quarters of respondents were in favour of beavers returning to the park, but only a third of them were park residents.

Ian Wilson, Highland regional manager for the National Farmers Union Scotland, said the impacts of beavers could be devastating for some local farmers, if floodwater ends up instead on their land.

And Jamie Williamson, whose estate lies close to all three release sites, says the arrival of beavers could leave some of his best farmland ruined.

The sites are at the RSPB’s Insh Marshes reserve at Kincraig; on part of the rewilding billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen’s (below) land; and on the Rothiemurchus Estate, owned by the aristocratic Grants.

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At least four families of beavers – more than a dozen animals – will be brought in.

Wilson said there could be benefits from beavers. He is happy CNPA is running the reintroduction, rather than a single landholder.

But he said local farmers are “nervous” about the prospect, having seen flooding in high-quality farmland on the Tay, where illegally reintroduced beavers have thrived for 20 years.

He added: “The impacts of the beavers could be quite devastating to individuals … there will be areas where there is potential for great damage.”

While much of the area’s farmland is hilly and unlikely to be badly affected, the impact will be felt on the best valley-bottom land: “Within each individual farm or croft there are small pockets of better land and the loss of it would be devastating. If land becomes that bit wetter making the hay needed for stock for the winter could become impossible.”

CNPA has pledged its staff will be available to help farmers implement the “mitigation measures” permitted by NatureScot, where beavers cause problems.

READ MORE: How many beavers are really being shot in Scotland?

But Wilson said that would not help farmers lower down the Spey, outside the park and on more productive land: “When the beavers take the decision themselves to move outwith the park area that’s going to cause probably greater conflicts. Is that going to be just left to the individual land managers, crofters and farmers to deal with there – who’s going to help them?”

Williamson owns the 12,500 acre Alvie and Dalraddy Estate, less than two miles from one release site, and says the animals could be on his property “within days” of their release.

The shallow Allt an Fhearna burn runs across the estate. He believes beavers could dam it to create protective pools, flooding nearby infrastructure such as his biofuel wood-chipping plant.

His best land is low-lying and he said: “What concerns us is that all this land is protected with ditches. If beavers start felling trees into the ditches they will just push water into the fields. This is some of the most productive land we have and if that gets flooded more we have a serious problem.

“If we want to actually reduce our carbon output we should be more self-sufficient, and what beavers will do is destroy all that.”

Peter Ferguson, Rothiemurchus’s biodiversity manager, said: “Our neighbours are going to be some of the other sites for beaver release, and we thought we would end up with beavers anyway, so we thought why not join them? The beavers are coming and maybe we are jumping before we are pushed.”

He added the beavers could in future provide a business opportunity with wildlife watching.

Sarah Henshall, the park’s head of conservation, said Scottish Government policy is “actively encouraging the establishment of beavers into new catchments” and pointed out CNPA is a Government body.

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“The Spey (above) catchment has been identified as the most suitable catchment [for beavers] and has the most suitable habitat of any in Scotland,” she said. “Beavers will bring lots of benefits to the landscape, and to biodiversity and to people.

“They may cause impacts, but I think we should all be reassured that there’s a management and mitigation framework that’s fully resourced and run by NatureScot.

“In addition, the national park has staff resource to help and support land owners and managers, and communities if they do have problems with beavers.”

There is a “hierarchy of measures” beginning with dam removal, and she added: “As a last resort there is also lethal control as well.”

There are now more than 1000 wild beavers in the Tay and Forth catchments, descended from animals illegally reintroduced or escaped. Another small wild population in Knapdale, Argyll, stems from the official government beaver trial.

In 2019 the Scottish Government made beavers a protected species, and in 2021 changed rules to allow translocations out of the catchments they already live in. Licences have just been approved for releases at the Tay Forest Park and to reinforce the Knapdale population.