The National Farmers Union of Scotland has criticised a proposal to reintroduce beavers to the Scottish countryside.
The P&J reported yesterday that Scottish Natural Heritage had chosen Knapdale Forest in Argyll as a possible site for the trial reintroduction.
If the move goes ahead 12 radio-tagged European Beavers will be released there in the spring of 2002, after arriving in Scotland for quarantine late next summer.
But Henry Murdoch, chairman of the NFU Scotland's environment and land use committee said the union was disappointed by the proposal.
Mr Murdoch said: "Argyll is to be plagued with the introduction of a roving animal species which doesn't belong here Ð or in any other part of Scotland."
SNH is to consult local people about the trial after carrying out a more widespread consultation in 1998 where some critics, including farmers and landowners, expressed their reservations.
Mr Murdoch said: "I am concerned that despite advice given during their consultation, the SNH board has decided to go ahead with what they call a trial reintroduction.
"There hasn't been beavers in Scotland for hundreds of years. Our ecosystem has changed in the interim so they have no claim to be a missing part of the natural jigsaw. This is nothing less than the introduction of an alien species."
He claimed the trial could be potentially damaging and may be irreversible if the animals strayed from the trial area.
"They may be here for
keeps," he said.
"The greatest disappointment of this episode is that the consultation on this subject has not taken into account the very real dangers associated with this type of introduction.
"We said that these animals can cause havoc and can't be depended on to stay at their release site.
"Our colleagues at the Scottish Landowners Federation went to the trouble of finding out about the Bavarian experience of this kind of beaver. Yet this evidence has been either ignored or dismissed."
And he said SNH must take full responsibility for any damage caused by beavers brought to Scotland.
SNH said the plan would only go ahead if there was local support for the trial in the area around Knapdale Forest.
And the organisation claimed there was overwhelming public support for the reintroduction of the creatures to Scotland, with 86% of written responses being in favour.
George Anderson of SNH commented: "It's very disappointing that the NFU is taking this line at this point. Far from ignoring their concerns the whole point of this trial is to test the problems which the union has raised with us.
"There are also a number of factual inaccuracies in their statement.
"SNH has a full exit strategy for the project. Beavers can be retrieved as they are very easy to live trap."
Mr Anderson added that SNH had been extremely cautious about the reintroduction of beavers,
A drop-in day is being organised in the Knapdale area next month to allow local people to view an exhibition about the project and to ask questions.
If there is enough local support the final proposals will be put to the Scottish Executive by the end of the year, seeking permission for the trial, which would cost £400,000.