Beaver releases: Protesting Cairngorms farmers getting things out of proportion — Philip Lymbery

Philip Lymbery
3 min readFeb 9, 2024

Beavers and landowners can sometimes come into conflict but these situations can be managed

Some farmers in the Cairngorms National Park have described the release of beavers in the area as the ‘final straw’ (Picture: James Manning/PA Wire)

Sometimes our mind can play tricks on us. Get things way out of proportion. Especially at night. How often have you lain awake worrying about something that seems insurmountable in the wee hours but much more trivial come the morning? Things can become hyperbolised, made to seem larger, or worse than they really are, leading to a heightened sense of anxiety.

Well, if I’m honest, I kind of got that feeling of things getting way out of proportion when I read about a demonstration by farmers in the Cairngorms protesting about beavers. Farmers drove to the venue in tractors, lights flashing and horns tooting, braving snowy conditions to make their point outside the Cairngorms National Park Authority offices in Grantown-on-Spey.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve led many a protest in many a country, including outside Westminster, the European Commission in Brussels, and the Scottish Parliament. Usually against cruelty to animals and the destruction of the natural world. Protest and me are no strangers.

But beavers? The flashpoint was the release of two pairs of beavers into the Cairngorms, marking their return 400 years after being driven to extinction in Scotland. Reading reports of “anxieties” and of farmers having been “left behind” invoked a feeling of that night time dissonance, that tension between exaggerated fears and reality.

Beavers benefit nature

After all, beavers were once an everyday part of our countryside. And the countryside was so much richer for it. As ‘ecosystem engineers’ their activities create wetland habitats and enhance biodiversity. Beavers help the restoration of waterways and control water flow, important in the face of climate change and the greater risk of flooding. In addition, beavers can bring wildlife tourism into new areas.

Now, I’m not saying that there won’t be times when beavers and landowners come into conflict. But as NatureScot says, these situations can be managed. And this absolutely shouldn’t be used as an excuse for throwing the baby, or the beaver, out with the bathwater.

The benefits of living in harmony with nature are why I can only agree with Scotland’s biodiversity minister, Lorna Slater, in welcoming the growing number of beavers in the wild, who said: “It is vital that we continue to protect and value these iconic animals.” Hear, hear!

As farmer Derek Gow put it, “beavers are the creators of life — without beavers there is no life. The other animals are stock cubes, which you put into the stew, spreading richness and flavour to everything.” And he should know. Based on his 300-acre farm in Devon, Gow has been bringing back water voles, white storks, and beavers for years.

The legendary American farmer and poet, Wendell Berry, has described farming as a conversation with nature. With the resurgence of nature-friendly practices across the countryside, together with a growing embrace of rewilding, it seems that this heart-to-heart with nature is beginning anew. But not in a way that should keep us awake at night, rather one that should reassure us that the world around us is returning to how it should be.

Philip Lymbery is chief executive of Compassion in World Farming, a former United Nations Food Systems Champion and an award-winning author. His latest book is Sixty Harvests Left: How to Reach a Nature-Friendly Future. Philip is on X/Twitter @philip_ciwf

Note: This article was first published in The Scotsman on Friday 9th February, 2024