Plan to trap River Tay beavers reversed by ministers
A decision to trap escaped beavers living on the River Tay has been reversed by government ministers.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) ordered 16 months ago that any beavers on the Tay should be captured and "rehomed" at Edinburgh Zoo.
But the Scottish government said a decision on their future would now be postponed until 2015.
This coincides with the completion of the official beaver reintroduction trial at Knapdale, in Argyll and Bute.
SNH believes about 100 beavers are living wild in the Tay catchment area and many are breeding.
The Scottish government said the animals would now be monitored for the next three years. In 2015 a decision about the reintroduction of beavers to Scotland as a whole will be made.
Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson said he had come to the decision after being given three options in a report by SNH - to cull the animals, accept that beavers had been reintroduced to Scotland, or to monitor the population for a longer period.
Mr Stevenson said: "There is potential for an important and unwelcome precedent to be set so we must consider environmental and other impacts when we make decisions.
"After careful consideration of all the various factors, my view is that the best way forward is to allow the beavers to remain in place for the duration of the official trial beaver re-introduction in Knapdale in Argyll.
"We will take a decision on the future of beavers in Scotland - both those in Knapdale and on Tayside - at the end of the trial period in 2015."
A group, chaired by SNH, will now be set up to monitor the Tay beavers, and advise local landowners on how their presence can be managed.
SNH issued the trapping order for the Tay beavers in November 2010, arguing the animals had to be captured as they had been released - or escaped - illegally into the wild.
Leaving the animals in the wild would be "choosing to ignore well-established wildlife legislation", the organisation has said.
But the order has always been fiercely opposed by campaigners, who called SNH's order "ill considered and profoundly wrong".
Louise Ramsay, from the Scottish Wild Beavers group, welcomed Mr Stevenson's announcement and said the impact of beavers on the environment was "tremendously positive".
She told BBC Radio Scotland: "Beavers exist in the whole of Eurasia and the whole of North America and mitigation techniques have been developed for all the types of problems that beavers can produce."
However, Dr Alan Wells, from the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards, expressed concern that the Tay beavers would be left in the wild.
He said: "It is highly regrettable that these animals - of unknown origin and disease status - were not removed as soon as their presence was identified."