The reintroduction of beavers to Scotland received another setback yesterday after deputy environment minister Allan Wilson said he needed more information before he could agree to the proposals.
In q letter to the chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage, John Markland, which outlined the process under which ministers have considered the application, Mr Wilson highlighted aspects of the proposed SNH pilot project that required further consideration.
He said that they included the financing and management of the trial, the potential risks to agriculture, forestry and salmon interests, as well as a thorough assessment of any public health risks.
Reintroduction into the wild after a 400-year absence was scheduled to begin in 2003 with the release of 15 to 20 beavers from Norway in a forest in Knapdale, Argyll, belonging to Forest Enterprise - part of which is the Scottish Wildlife Trust's Knapdale wildlife reserve.
In October this year the trust called on First Minister Jack McConnell to sweep away the log jam preventing the reintroduction of the species to Scotland, citing positive results of extensive consultations and investigation.
Hunted to extinction in the course of the 16 th century, beavers have been reintroduced within an enclosed area by the Kent Wildlife Trust since spring 2002.
The European beaver, which does not build dams and is quite distinct from its North American relative, is the largest rodent native to Europe.
It has a life expectancy of about eight years, grows to 3 ft in length and can weigh up to 40 lb.
Currently the species has been introduced to 12 other European countries under the aegis of a European Union habitats directive.
Scotland is one of the last European countries without a restored population, and those in favour claim reintroduction would represent an enormous boost to ecotourism, the economy of Scotland in general and Argyllshire in particular.
Mr Wilson said: "I am currently unable to grant approval for a licence on the basis of the information as presented.
"It would be helpful to know more about the experiences of other countries where European beaver have been introduced, including any longer term impacts."
Steve Sankey, the chief executive of SWT, said the minister had "bottled out" of making a decision.
© Scotsman, 21 st December 2002
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