'Secret Tay beaver cull plan' claim denied
Wildlife campaigners have said they fear landowners may be planning a secret cull of beavers living in the wild on the Tay, with the approval of the authorities.
The Scottish government insisted the claims are untrue, but said the animals do not have full legal protection.
It is thought more than a 100 beavers are living and breeding in the Tay's catchment area.
An official beaver re-introduction trial is under way in Argyll.
Louise Ramsay of the Scottish Wild Beaver Group said: "The Scottish government's official position is that it doesn't consider the beavers to be protected, although it wants landowners and farmers only to use lethal control as a last resort.
"But we have had two separate reports that the Scottish government wants the beavers dead and would like landowners' support in conducting a cull, but keeping it quiet."
Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson announced in March the beavers could remain on the Tay, at least until 2015, when the official beaver re-introduction trial at Knapdale in Argyll is due to end.
A Scottish government spokesman said: "During the trial period, beavers do not have full legal protection.
"However, the Scottish government believes that in most cases where there are conflicts with land use, alternative management solutions can be found and does not see any reason at present to support a cull of these animals."
The scientific findings of the official Scottish Beaver Trial at Knapdale will be used by ministers to decide whether beavers should be permanently re-introduced to Scotland.
Landowners are worried about the increased risk of flooding, due to the dams which the beavers build.
There are also concerns about the impact the species could have on forestry and fishing.
Simon Milne, the chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: "There will always be concerns but if, in exceptional circumstances, a beaver is causing a problem, there are devices known as 'beaver deceivers' which are like putting a pipe into the dam to regulate the water flow.
"It's also possible to remove a dam. So there are lots of things which can be done, and information and advice are available for landowners."