Beavers – unique opportunity for the Scottish Highlands

european beaver 0540 L.Campbell

24th November 2016, by Richard Bunting. Photo: © Laurie Campbell

 

Welcoming the Scottish government’s decision to allow reintroduced beavers to remain in the country announced today, Trees for Life said that it plans to move ahead with investigating the possibilities for bringing beavers to areas north of the Great Glen, working with local communities to identify where they might live without perceived adverse impacts.  

Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s Chief Executive said: “Today’s decision means that beavers can naturally spread through Scotland in the future. There is a lot of space in the Highlands where they could thrive, improving the region for other wildlife and providing a tourist attraction that will benefit the local economy.”  

However, the main obstacle to the natural spread of beavers to the Highlands is geography. Steve Micklewright said: “The Great Glen presents a natural barrier to beavers colonising the area on their own from the existing populations in Argyll and Tayside, so the only way to be sure they will return to the northwest Highlands would be to give them a helping hand.” 

Trees for Life has long been an advocate for the Eurasian beaver’s reintroduction to Scotland and has been working on the possibility to reintroduce them for many years.

Trees for Life has long been an advocate for the Eurasian beaver’s reintroduction to Scotland and has been working on the possibility to reintroduce them for many years. In 2015 the charity commissioned initial research by beaver experts, which indicated that places such as Glen Affric could support beavers. The planting of aspen trees – a vital winter food for beavers – by Trees for Life in areas beside Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin and Loch Affric in Glen Affric, and beside the River Moriston at the charity’s Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston, has also improved the prospect of these areas being suitable for beaver reintroduction in the future.

Trees for Life is supportive of the return of beavers because they can improve the health of rivers and lochs, and also reduce flooding. They coppice and fell trees, letting light into the forest and enabling other plants to flourish, while stimulating new growth of the trees themselves. Their small dams create wetland areas, providing habitats for amphibians, invertebrates and fish, which in turn attract birds and otters.

While the benefits to other wildlife of beaver reintroduction are significant, the government’s announcement recognises that some residents may be concerned about the possible impact of beavers on their interests and that this requires careful management.

Acknowledging that some people might be worried about potential local impacts such as flooding and beavers felling trees to build dams, Steve Micklewright said: “While it is certain that beavers could live in the Highlands, the next step is to ensure they would be a welcome addition to the landscape. That is why we plan to work out where they would be welcome. Then we plan to enter in to dialogue with the government to explore how we can help them to return to those areas.”

 

Notes

1. Studies were carried out by by Roisin Campbell-Palmer, who worked on the Scottish Beaver Trial with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, and Helen Dickinson, formerly of Tayside Beaver Study Group
2. Scottish Beaver Trial: In May 2009 – following Scottish Government permission for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and Scottish Wildlife Trust to conduct a trial reintroduction of European beavers – beavers from Norway were released at Knapdale Forest in Argyll, in Britain’s first legal reintroduction of a mammal species to the wild. Independent scientific monitoring, coordinated by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), ran until May 2014. In 2015, SNH reported to the Scottish Government on the trial.
2. Alongside the Knapdale Forest population, Scotland has more than 250 wild beavers estimated to be in the River Tay catchment, following breeding by beavers that escaped from captivity. Trees for Life is urging the government to allow the natural expansion of beavers from both Argyll and Tayside, and to authorise further licensed reintroductions in appropriate areas, accompanied by carefully considered management and monitoring, including to secure the genetic health and long-term viability of these colonies.
3. The Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) was present in the UK until it was hunted to extinction for its pelt, meat and musk oil. The exact date of the animal’s disappearance from Scotland is unknown. Written records indicate that it may have survived in small numbers at a few locations until the 16th century.

We need to raise £15,000 for our Bring Back the Beavers project.

Your support now, by donating to our appeal, will allow us to:

  • Carry out detailed site assessments.
  • Share our findings with local communities.
  • Carry out further beaver habitat restoration work.

Please click here to support our appeal to help the beavers to come back!

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