European Beavers

– in the House of Lords at 3:17 pm on 9th March 2000.

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Photo of Lord Hardy of Wath Lord Hardy of Wath Labour 3:17 pm, 9th March 2000

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they expect the European beaver to be introduced into the United Kingdom during the next three years.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, the Government have no plans to introduce the European beaver into England. To do so without a proper licence obtained from the department would be illegal.

Photo of Lord Hardy of Wath Lord Hardy of Wath Labour

My Lords, I do not know whether or not I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. But will my noble friend make it clear that, should the European beaver be introduced, it will be a reintroduction? It is not an alien species. Will she ensure also that if a firm proposal comes forward, it must ensure that the species is settled in an appropriate and socially acceptable environment that will be secure? While it may promote tourist attractions, one hopes that it will not feed peculiar gourmets with a taste for unusual foods.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, my noble friend has knowledge of gourmet dishes beyond my experience. I am aware of people who have eaten other things, but in my experience people have only worn the fur of the beaver.

My noble friend is wrong. The European beaver is covered by sex--Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Noble Lords:

Section 28!

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, my briefing does not cover the sexual habits of the beaver! It would be treated as a new introduction because it is not a regular visitor to this country.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister recall that many years ago an animal whose name I cannot remember--it is not Alzheimer's--was imported because of its fur (nutria) but became an absolute scourge to farmers on the east side of England, eating all the sugar beet? It was finally eliminated by bounty. I fear that if the beaver was introduced into this country the same could happen, maybe in a different way, but it would be a destructive force for agriculture.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that the introduction of alien species into this country has done great damage. Grey squirrels are one example. The coypu, mentioned by the noble Baroness, created a problem for the banks of the Norfolk Broads as well as a problem for farmers. I believe that great care should be taken over this matter.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that lessons will be learnt from the past, in particular as regards those animals under threat, such as the otter? If beaver are introduced, both species will need to use the same food source; namely, fish. Will the Minister ensure that particular care will be taken to ensure that the position as regards otters is taken into account?

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, clearly that would be a consideration.

Photo of Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Crossbench

My Lords, is the Minister aware that beaver skins make lovely fur coats? Furthermore, does she know whether beaver can be farmed? If so, would this not be a wonderful alternative crop for our hard-pressed farmers?

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, I am not aware that any applications have been made in relation to farming beaver. My Lords, this is an extremely serious question!

For those noble Baronesses and noble Ladies who are Members of this House fortunate--or unfortunate--enough to own a fur coat, it should be remembered that the release of mink into the environment has caused enormous damage.

Photo of Lord Monro of Langholm Lord Monro of Langholm Conservative

My Lords, in view of the fact that all governments over many years have encouraged afforestation, is it not illogical for the Government to finance an organisation in Scotland which yesterday announced that it would import beaver? Those animals will destroy countless trees.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, I am not aware of any policies or plans in hand in the Scottish Parliament on this. However, it must be a matter for that parliament.

Photo of Earl Ferrers Earl Ferrers Conservative

My Lords, can the noble Baroness assure the House that if, in the unfortunate circumstance of the beaver being introduced, it will not immediately be appended to the long and irreversible list of endangered species?

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, I believe that I can give that assurance to the noble Earl. Everyone concerned would wish to behave responsibly as regards this matter. It may interest noble Lords to know that we have not received any applications for possums either. I understand that there is a problem with possums in New Zealand. However, they do have one added benefit in New Zealand in that they are very attached to marijuana. They seek it out and eat it all. It may be that the drugs tsar would have an interest.

Photo of Lord Rotherwick Lord Rotherwick Conservative

My Lords, in the unlikely situation of a proper licence being issued for the importation of the European beaver, would a person who had been issued with such a licence be financially liable for the damage that that animal would cause, if any damage were caused at a later date?

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, I would need to seek legal advice on that point because it would depend on the circumstances that applied at the time. That would be the wisest course to take.