Beavers in Strathglass

What’s the story?

Trees for Life discovered a small family of beavers in Strathglass in June 2017. We set camera traps and it looks as though the family consisted of two adults, two yearlings and two kits. The kits were likely born in April or May of this year.

People locally have also reported sightings of at least one other single beaver on a separate stretch of river.

 

How did that happen?

We assume that the parents escaped from one of the nearby private beaver collections.

 

How long have beavers been here?

Judging by the signs along the riverbank, there has been a beaver presence in the area for at least five years and likely eight at the most.

 

Could this family start a local population?

It’s possible, but we think the odds are against this. This partly because inbreeding is usually a poor basis for establishing a population, but also because the survival of young beavers is subject to a number of natural threats, such as drowning during floods and harsh winters.

 

Are they protected?

At present, beavers are not protected in the UK. However Scottish Natural Heritage is working to protect beavers under European law and have said that they expect protected status to be in place sometime this winter. In the meantime, the Scottish Government has stated that the beaver populations in Argyll and on Tayside can remain and that beavers will be allowed to expand their range naturally.

 

What’s happening now?

The Scottish Government has decided to trap and remove the beaver family, on the basis that it has not arrived here by natural means. Trapping began in mid-September and will continue until mid-October. If necessary, trapping will start again sometime in January and run until March 2018. At the time of writing, three beavers from the family were trapped in mid-October, the female adult, a sub-adult and a kit.  Very sadly, all three beavers have died in captivity.  The causes of these deaths are currently unknown, but we think that the beavers are likely to have been in good condition when they were trapped.  We think that this leaves the other adult, a sub-adult and a kit still on the river, although the government still intends to resume trapping early in 2018.

 
Do beavers eat fish?

Beavers are purely vegetarian. In the winter months, they tend to eat the softer woody tissue of trees like willow, birch and aspen. In spring and summer, they feed on fresh shoots of aquatic plants, sedges and grasses. It is unusual for a beaver to travel more than 20m from water to feed.

 

Can beavers cause problems?

Yes they can, the main problems they have caused elsewhere are undermining riverbanks by burrowing and causing localised flooding by building dams which block drainage channels. In some situations, beaver dams can temporarily stop migratory fish like salmon from getting to their spawning grounds.

 

Do beavers also bring benefits? 

Beavers don’t create these problems everywhere. For instance, beavers are unlikely to build dams in much of Strathglass. If the right management is in place, most beaver impacts can be addressed. Beavers also bring benefits for other wildlife, improve water quality and can reduce flooding – so much so that beavers have now been reintroduced to 25 European countries for the environmental advantages they bring.

 

What is Trees for Life doing?

Trees for Life supports the return of beavers to the Highlands with the support of local communities. We want to find out what people think about the idea of having beavers around. We’ve been talking to local residents, landowners, farmers and fishermen and heard a diverse set of views, ranging from concern that beavers could exacerbate bank erosion and impede fish passage through to enthusiastic support for having beaver as part of the local wildlife. Now, we want to give people the chance to find out more about beavers and discuss the issues locally.

 

Camera trap footage of the Strathglass beavers

 

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