Farmers and gamekeepers in Tayside are shooting “as many beavers as possible” before a protection order comes in, it has been claimed.
The claim has emerged thanks to a freedom of information request and relates to a meeting involving Strathmore and Forfar farmers.
It is thought that around 150 beavers live wild on the Tay, the Earn and the Isla and other connecting rivers and burns.
There have been repeated delays by Scottish Ministers in deciding whether to bring the animals under legal protection and there are no rules governing when or how they can be shot.
After a freedom of information request, the Scottish Government has released internal correspondence about beavers since June 2015 but blacked out all names.
On February 12 this year a correspondent emailed Holyrood officials saying they had recently given a talk to a meeting of the Strathmore and Forfar farmers in Angus.
The email stated: “It was clear from discussions that farmers and gamekeepers are shooting as many beavers as possible just now before they become protected.”
The reply from the environmental directorate said this was “depressing but not surprising” and asked for more details.
The correspondent responded stating: “I suspect they will be just shooting them in the water, which might result in injuries rather than death much of the time.
“Like seals that are shot in the water no doubt they will just float off downstream or die in their lodge.”
The Scottish Wild Beaver Group has called for “urgent action” by the Scottish Government to end their delay in protecting the animals.
Paul Ramsay from the group said: “This callous approach has already hardened the differences of attitude between conservationists and these farmers in ways that will be hard to undo.
“An urgent response is needed by the Scottish Government to protect these much-loved and beneficial animals, and to provide farmers with an incentive to look for a better response to the situation.”
The National Farmers’ Union in Scotland is opposed to the formal reintroduction of beavers in Tayside because of the damage they can cause to farmland.
“It remains a huge source of frustration to farmers across Tayside and Strathmore that decisions about the beaver population, illegally released without any appropriate permissions or safeguards, remain outstanding,” said Andrew Bauer, the union’s deputy policy director.