'Urgent' call for Scots beavers to be recognised as native species
Two wildlife groups have issued an "urgent" call for the Eurasian beaver to be recognised by the Scottish government as a native species.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust "strongly advocate" recognising the animals as natural residents.
The groups voiced fears about ongoing culling of wild beavers in Tayside.
The Scottish government has said it will "take time to consider the issue carefully" before making a decision.
The RZSS and Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) have joined the National Trust for Scotland in calling for the mammals to be legitimised as a resident, native species of Scotland.
The two groups led the Scottish Beaver Trial, where beavers were released in Knapdale in Argyll as a test of a future reintroduction.
Separately, more than 150 beavers which originated from escapes or illegal releases live in waterways in Tayside.
BBC Scotland revealed in January that animals which were heavily pregnant or had recently given birth were among those shot by landowners in the area.
In March 2012, then environment minister Stewart Stevenson said the fate of the Tayside beavers would be decided after the trial reintroduction in Argyll had been assessed.
However, with Scottish Natural Heritage submitting its final report on the Knapdale trial in 2015, the government is yet to come to a decision.
The RZSS and SWT said they were "firmly of the view that beavers will be a key asset to Scotland", and called on the government to make a "positive decision" on the matter.
A joint statement from chief executives Chris West and Jonny Hughes said there was "particular urgency" with beavers on Tayside being culled and the need to introduce more of the animals in Knapdale to ensure long-term viability of the population.
They said: "The decision has now become urgent as animals are being indiscriminately culled on Tayside.
"The indiscriminate nature of this culling has led to well-publicised animal welfare concerns, and in the medium term, could threaten the existence of local populations.
"Scientific evidence shows that the return of the beaver will help to restore our depleted wetland ecosystems and bring a range of other social, economic and environmental benefits.
"We look forward to the Scottish government reaching a positive decision in the very near future on the restoration of beavers to Scotland."
Scottish Land and Estates argues that management, including lethal control, is common in other parts of Europe where beavers are resident, as the animals have no natural predators.
They advise farmers and landowners to control the population "where it is necessary", and to cull the animals "in the most humane way possible" if it is "the only reasonable option".
The Scottish government has said environment minister Aileen McLeod is "taking time to consider the issue carefully and listen to the views of stakeholders".
Beavers currently have no legal protection in Scotland, but the government said consideration would be given to this if a decision was made to reintroduce them.