Before any derogation can be applied, a precautionary approach to the conservation of the species must be undertaken. This has not occurred. The decision on its face is therefore unlawful.
Friends of the Earth has taken the first formal legal steps to a Judicial Review that could prevent the Government from capturing a family of beavers living in the wild in Devon, and placing them in captivity.
In papers submitted to the court this week the environment campaign group is seeking to challenge licences issued by Natural England (NE) to capture the animals, which were filmed on the River Otter earlier this year.
According to the Government department responsible for wildlife, Defra, the beavers should be captured to test them for the exotic tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis.
But according to FoE, it is "highly unlikely" that they are infected. And in any case, it is possible to test and release them within a day, as is currently done in Scotland.
Release your evidence!
FoE has also sent a letter to Natural England demanding that it reveal whether, and how, it considered the application of the Habitats Directive, and demanding the release of the risk assessment which was carried out, within 14 days.
NE had previously asked FoE to submit a Freedom of Information Act request for the information. However the process is a slow one and FoE would not have received the information in time to challenge the beaver capture licences, which were issued without publicity on 24th July.
The lack of cooperation from NE effectively forced FoE into taking legal action. In its letter the campaign group writes: "We have grave concerns about the conformity of the decision-making process by your authority with the requirements of the Habitats Directive ...
"Natural England has granted a licence, seemingly under Article 16 of the Habitats Directive which will have the effect of extinguishing the existing wild population of beaver (a European protected species) in this part of England.
"The beaver self-evidently is not in favourable conservation status and there is therefore no power to rely on the Article 16 derogation. In any event, alternative solutions (including testing and immediate release) have not been considered. Therefore no derogations can apply.
"Further, before any derogation can be applied, a precautionary approach to the conservation of the species must be undertaken. This has not occurred. The decision on its face is therefore unlawful."
Let the beavers be!
Friends of the Earth campaigner Alasdair Cameron said: "At a time when our wildlife is facing an unprecedented crisis, the Government should be taking steps to protect and expand the range of key native species like the beaver - not removing them from our rivers.
"We know that beavers can bring many benefits, such as boosting fish stocks, improving biodiversity and helping to prevent flooding - as well as injecting a little more joy into our landscape.
"These animals have been living and breeding in Devon for years, Ministers should work with the local community to find a sensible solution that allows them to remain in the wild.
"This is an opportunity to create a richer, better environment for ourselves and our children, where we can experience the beauty of animals that are an important part of our ecosystems."
Beavers are a native species once found right across England, which were driven to extinction several hundred years ago. In recent years several populations have been re-established in Scotland.
Wildlife experts, including Natural England itself, have indicated that their reintroduction would bring many benefits to the English countryside.
Email the Minister: Keep Devon's beavers in the wild.