Decision on future of Scotland's beavers later this year
The Scottish government has said any decision on the formal re-introduction of beavers to Scotland will not be taken until later this year.
Four years ago, ministers promised a decision on the matter by 2015.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and other groups have warned that delays risk the welfare of beavers already in parts of Scotland.
The government said it and Scottish Natural Heritage were giving landowners advice on managing the animals.
Scotland has two beaver populations, despite the species being hunted to extinction in the 16th Century.
An official trial re-introduction has been conducted at Knapdale Forest in Argyll. But beavers are also thriving in the Tay catchment.
There have been suggestions in the past of releasing beavers in parts of the Cairngorms.
Farmers and landowners have said the animals damage trees and cause flooding in fields alongside burns and rivers.
In January, BBC Scotland reported that beavers that were heavily pregnant or had recently given birth were among those shot by landowners in Tayside.
The following month, RZSS and the Scottish Wildlife Trust said there was an "urgent" need to have beavers recognised as a native species.
Earlier this week, RZSS spoke out again on the issue.
The National Trust for Scotland has also called for a decision "as soon as possible". It supports controlled, licensed reintroductions of beavers.
RSPB Scotland has described the government's statement as "extremely disappointing".
Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod has now said in a statement that "complex issues still under careful consideration", a final decision on beavers within the context of Scottish wildlife and land management would be taken later this year.
She said there were measures already available, such as Nature Conservation Orders, to protect beavers.
Dr McLeod said: "We understand that there are those for whom beaver activity can pose problems - particularly farmers with low-lying areas, often with highly productive farms but which are at risk of flooding or water logging from the damming activities of beavers.
"We are working closely with SNH, who are providing advice on mitigation and alternatives to lethal control but also guidelines regarding welfare considerations arising from the shooting of beavers, where this is the only option available.
"We are aware of and share the concerns raised by the recent information about the killing of beavers during the breeding season and we ask all land managers to heed the advice set out regarding when there are likely to be dependent young and shooting is particularly discouraged."