Leave it to Tayside Beavers

Did you know there are now somewhere in the region of 200 beavers living wild along the river Tay?

 River Tay from Kinnoull Hill - Tom Jervis 2011

River Tay from Kinnoull Hill - Tom Jervis 2011

No one knows how the original few rogue beavers got there. At the time (2001) police suspected they were deliberately introduced in the dead of night by guerrilla-wilders. The Scottish Government quickly realised it would be a vote winner to let them stay. Those beavers had beavers and over the last 16 years the results have been amazing.

The wetlands of the world, nature’s kidneys, have been disappearing at a staggering rate. 80% of aquatic life has been wiped out, and reports say around two-thirds of wetland worldwide has gone since 1990. This cannot continue.

The beauty of beavers doing the work of wetland regeneration is the sheer speed with which they can achieve results. A study by the University of Stirling between 2003 and 2015 found in Tayside alone the beavers had built 500 meters of canals, an acre of assorted freshwater ponds and 195 meters of damming, all of which stabilises water flow, reduces flooding downstream, and helps eliminate water pollution. They recorded a drop in agricultural pollutants in the beaver-rich waters which surprised them – concentrations of phosphorus and nitrates in the water tested were reduced by half.

 Tayside beavers, a mother and her cub - Ray Scott 2010

Tayside beavers, a mother and her cub - Ray Scott 2010

This is because beaver activity helps to filter the fresh water: good for pollution reduction and good news for aquatic life. Beavers bring greater complexity to river systems. This improves water variety and quality so more species can thrive in smaller, less fast-flowing ponds and dammed areas. Aquatic life has doubled in Tayside in the time the beavers have been present. Scientists at Stirling also noted an increase in the diversity of plant species growing around beaver-managed wetlands of 71%.   

Let’s face it – beavers do wetland regeneration much better than humans can.

These benefits must be weighed against some drawbacks, in their occasional negative impact on fisheries, farmland and forestry. They can flood farmland if precautions aren’t taken to stop them damming drainage pipes. But precautions can be taken. Read about the Beaver Deceiver in our earlier post on the beavers of Knapdale. They can sometimes fell the wrong trees and although they don't eat fish, salmon fishers are worried about the impact of beaver dams on wild salmon migratory habits. In Norway, where beavers and salmon have coexisted for decades, no problem has been found, on the contrary, beaver activity has a beneficial effect on all fish stocks. However, because of their obvious benefit to ecology, we can and must strive to overcome any negative impacts. After all humans have the bigger brains, or so we like to think.

Too many beavers would become pestilential. So what predates on beavers? Bears, wolves and lynx! All the animals rewilding proponents want to see return. Eagles and owls will take young beavers, and otters will eat the cubs, though any attempt will be hotly defended. When a beaver gets angry it slaps its tail on the water as a warning or else to divert attention from its young. See some tail slapping in action on the River Tay in the video below: