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.

Trees for Life’s hope remains that it will be sooner rather than later before the government allows a meaningful and balanced discussion about beaver reintroduction.

 

What’s happening now?

The Scottish Government has decided to trap and relocate the beaver family, on the basis that it did not arrived here by natural means. The first phase of trapping began in September 2017 and continued into October. Three beavers from the family were trapped at this time, the female adult, a sub-adult and a kit. Very sadly, all three beavers then died within a fortnight of entering captivity. The autopsies following these deaths were inconclusive, but we think that the beavers were likely to have been in good condition when they were trapped.

Following the winter, another beaver was trapped in April this year. This was either a sub-adult born in 2016 or perhaps the adult male from last year’s family unit. The beaver was moved to Knapdale in Argyll after a minimised (5 day) stay in captivity to complete the necessary vet checks.  The release site had been carefully selected to provide ample shelter and food, but unfortunately this beaver was found dead about a week after its release – a huge disappointment to all involved, not least ourselves.  As relocated animals sometimes do, it had travelled a considerable distance from its release site.  All the indications are that it travelled to the Knapdale coast and covered around 6km through the sea. 

SNH think that there are one, possibly two beavers left on the river.  They’ve been asked by the Scottish Government to continue the efforts to remove these animals from the river, so trapping has recently resumed.

 

Where did the beavers come from?

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

 

How long had the beavers been here?

Judging by the signs along the riverbank, there has been a beaver presence in the area for five years at the very least and probably a good deal longer.

 

Could this family have started a local population?

It’s possible, but we think the odds were heavily against this. This is partly because inbreeding within a small number of animals 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 or harsh winters.

 

Aren’t 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 at some point, although the timeframe for this has slipped repeatedly. 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.

 

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 in some circumstances 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 wanted to find out what people think about the idea of having beavers around. By talking to local residents, landowners, farmers and fishermen and hearing a diverse set of views, ranging from concern that beavers could exacerbate bank erosion and impede fish passage through to enthusiastic support for having beavers as part of the local wildlife. We believe that there are compelling reasons for Scotland to consider wildlife reintroductions and to do so in a balanced way. Open-handed dialogue to develop a shared understanding of the potential costs and opportunities associated with reintroductions is vital if we are to avoid further debilitating conflict between land use interests. 

For more, read our blog: 'Why can't we talk about beavers?'

Camera trap footage of the Strathglass beavers

 

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