The Scottish government has announced it is supporting the trapping and releasing of problem causing beavers for the first time.

Previously, farmers could apply for a licence to cull beavers that were damaging farmland or trees. But a recent announcement from biodiversity minister Lorna Slater MSP indicated support for the trapping and translocation of beavers to other sites across Scotland.

Currently, Scotland’s 1,000 beavers are located mainly in Argyll and the Tay and Forth valleys, but this could change as they are released to new sites.

The number of beaver sites is 250, which has doubled since 2017.

The beavers were officially released in Knapdale Forest in Argyll as part of a programme a number of years ago.

But the population in the Forth and Tay valleys are thought to have been established through animals illegally released or escaped from captivity.

After 2019, the species was awarded protected status, which means farmers are required to apply for a licence to deal with beavers damaging their land. So far, over 200 animals have been culled under licence.

The ability to transport beavers to fresh sites across Scotland has been welcomed by conservation groups.

Steve Micklewright, chief executive of rewilding charity Trees for Life, said: “Allowing these habitat-creating, biodiversity-boosting, flood-preventing animals to be relocated across Scotland – to where they are needed and wanted, away from prime agricultural land, and in a way that works for farmers – offers hope for tackling the nature and climate emergencies.”

Farmer fury

On the other hand, NFU Scotland has stated it is disappointed with this announcement, which it believes could undermine the ability to produce healthy, sustainable food and preserve historical Scottish features such as floodbanks.

NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy said: “NFU Scotland believes in the natural expansion of the growing beaver population in Scotland, rather than the need for translocation.”

“The NatureScot survey results from earlier this year showed a significant and accelerating increase in beaver numbers and territories.

“These results provide unequivocal evidence of beavers in Scotland being a conservation and reintroduction success story, without the need for translocation, within a management framework that operated in the interests of beavers and wider biodiversity, while limiting the damage to valuable agricultural land.

“It is important that we sensitively manage wildlife to benefit and improve our biodiversity in balance with our need to produce food and keep the nation fed.

“Beavers, in the wrong areas, are proven to cause significant and costly agricultural damage.”

UK grass growth averaged 9.2t DM/ha

Farmers are increasingly using swards containing legumes, particularly red and white clover, to mitigate the rising nitrogen price.

Grass growth figures for the UK show that this year, farmers averaged 9.2t DM/ha across the monitoring farms in GrassCheckGB.

This average was lower than the previous two years, but the peak in June was higher. The highest producing farms in the programme achieved 12t of dry matter per hectare for the year.

Dairy farms achieved an average of 90kg DM/ha/day at their peak, with beef and sheep farms closer to 70kg DM/ha/day.

The peak occured in June this year, where previous years had seen maximum growth rates in May.

The dry and cold April followed by the wet May meant many farmers struggled for covers in spring, but had a glut of grass in early summer.

Challenging 2022

As fertiliser prices show little sign of falling, farmers are looking at using less nitrogen next year.

Dr Kathryn Huson, a research scientist with the Agri-Food and Bioscience Institute (AFBI), which helps run the grass monitor programme said: “For many farms, lowering artificial nitrogen is already a key target. This is reflected in the higher use of swards containing legumes, particularly red and white clover.”

These have the unique ability to take nitrogen from the air and store it in the soil, for subsequent use by the sward or following crop.

“There is definitely scope for their even greater use and many farmers are moving to more diverse species in their leys, including a range of legumes,” she said.

“It’s worth remembering that a sward containing 10-20% clover is estimated to fix as much as 50-200kg nitrogen per hectare in a year, so potentially displacing this amount of bagged fertiliser.”

Grass quality

Despite the season’s slightly lower yields, the quality of grass has been consistently high, and better than the previous two seasons.

The average metabolisable energy (ME) for each period never dropped below 11MJ/kg DM, and levelled over the season at 11.7 MJ/kg DM.

In the spring, this also helped to achieve an average ME of 12.1-12.4 MJ/kg DM from 5 April to 17 May.

This meant many farmers turned stock out onto leys with no more than 3,000-3,200kg DM/ha, or approximately 12cm. To achieve high ME grazing, farmers should aim to keep the grass at or just below the three leaf stage.

Once a fourth leaf starts appearing, the first leaf will die off, and if swards are allowed to grow on and mature, this produces more fibrous grass with a lower ME.

Stock should then be moved on when growth is around 1,500kg DM/ha or 4-5cm in height.

Trailer test still in limbo

Farmers are still waiting for the UK government to give a date for taking trailer tests.

Currently, there is no way for someone to gain a B+E category test, which allows towing a trailer over 3,500kg with a car or a truck.

Previously, to increase HGV driving test capacity, the government had intended to alter regulations from 15 November, to allow for those who passed their driving test after 1 January 1997 to tow a trailer without passing a test first.

But the plans failed to complete the required parliamentary process.

NFU Scotland has written to the government, urging them to publish plans for restarting tests. They are also urging those affected to contact their MP on the matter.

English farmers offered grants

Farmers can get up to £25,000 in grant aid in England under the recently opened Farming Investment Fund.

The money is targeted at increasing productivity on farms and is split into two strands The Farming Equipment and Technology Fund (FETF) and the Farming Transformation Fund (FTF).

The FETF funds smaller items of machinery and infrastructure, with grants of between £2,000 and £25,000 available. The application window is set to close on January 7 2022.

The FTF offers a 40% grant towards greater capital investment which improves productivity, profitability and enhances environmental sustainability.

Grants of between £35,000 and £500,000 are available and the application window will close on January 12 2022.

The FETF scheme follows a similar principles to the former Countryside Productivity Small Grants Scheme.

It is likely that this round will be the first of two rounds, with a second round opening later in 2022. The grants come at a time when BPS payments are falling across England as they move away from area payments.

Storm Arwen causes severe damage

Farmers have reported severe damage to buildings and structures, both large and small, including roofs, walls, cladding and polytunnels. It has also brought down large areas of trees, adding to the severe disruption.