Scottish Beavers - an update
Scottish beavers are here to stay. At the end of last year, and after a 5-year trial, the Knapdale forest beavers have been allowed to mind their own business in the wild without further monitoring. Those rogue beavers who set up home on the River Tay will also be left alone. Meanwhile their English cousins are, if you can excuse a tedious pun, beavering away in Devon.
500 years after the extinction of beavers in the UK, they have returned to both Scotland and England and are flourishing. Three colonies where erstwhile there were none, seems to suggest the beavers were coming back whether we liked it or not. They have even been spotted in Somerset, though reports are unconfirmed.
It gives hope for other long extinct species to make a comeback (the lynx springs to mind), and it marks the first ever formal reintroduction of a mammal into the UK in British history. But not everyone is pleased.
Beavers do have an annoying habit of changing the landscape. They like to block up drainage channels from fields, leading to flooding and crop ruination. Some farmers will argue that, although they may look furry and cute with their little buck teeth, they are rodents and they spread disease, notably Giardiasis, or 'Beaver Fever', a parasite that causes diarrhoea and stomach pain. Cattle, sheep, and humans can also become infected, but instances are relatively low, rarely severe and treatable.
Beaver dams raise the water table, which prevents smaller streams from drying up in hot summers, and increases water-dependent wildlife, but a higher water table in an area prone to flooding is obviously not welcome.
A cheap and low-maintenance solution to discourage beavers from vulnerable areas is the installation of flow devices. One such, colloquially known as a ‘Beaver Deceiver,’ is a trapezoidal fence secured around a drainage pipe. Beavers are meticulous but not too bright. If they detect a strong flow of water, such as that through a drainpipe decanting excess water into a river, they will doggedly dam it with sticks and mud, treating it as any other leak in their dam. Being beavers, however, they are easy to outfox!
As a keystone species, the Scottish government concludes that beavers contribute more to biodiversity than anything they take away. Their modification of rivers and creation of wetlands leads to the return of not only fish and pond life, but birds and even otters. Their wetlands also improve the quality of water which in turn leads to greater aquatic diversity; this at a time when our rivers are in urgent need of solutions - the 2016 Living Planet Report noted an 81% decrease in fresh water biodiversity worldwide.
Situated near Crinan on the West coast of Scotland, the forest of Knapdale has much to offer the eco-tourist. The lochs of Barnluasgan, Coille-Bharr and Dubh give the bashful beavers their privacy, but you will see signs of their activities and may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse. You can also see red squirrels, ospreys and eagles.