Sunday, 24 March 2013

Knapdale Beaver Trial - A Brief History 2009 - early 2013

The five year trial ends in 2014 with a decision on the re-introduction of beavers to be made in 2015. In the meantime, there are about 150 beavers living wild on Tayside. These beavers are the result of escapes from captive collections and have been known about for at least 10 years which was before the start of the Knapdale Trial with its £2 million price tag. Attempts to remove them in 2010 were a complete fiasco - only one was trapped and it subsequently died in Edinburgh Zoo. At the time, numbers were estimated to be between 6 and 20 animals. A survey by SNH in 2012 established that there are about 150 beavers. Removal was considered impractical and politically inadvisable and so the Minister at the time decided to allow the beavers to remain until the end of the Knapdale Trial when a decision will be made. While 150 beavers on Tayside at no cost to the taxpayer continue to flourish, the 12 beavers in Knapdale continue to be studied, trapped and tested to ascertain whether or not beavers will be beneficial to the British environment. May 2009 11 beavers released in Knapdale Loch Linne 2009 Adult Pair (Frid & Frank) Male Juvenile (Biffa) and Male Kit - kit died shortly after release, juvenile dispersed Total 2 beavers 2010 Adult Pair, sub-adult Male (Biffa) dispersed plus one kit born (Barney). Total 3 beavers 2011 Adult Pair, juvenile Male (Barney), one male kit born. Total 4 beavers 2012 Adult Pair, I sub-adult (Barney), one male juvenile, one female kit born, later found dead. Total 4 beavers Loch Coille Bharr/Dubh Loch 2009 Adult Pair, Two Female Juveniles - one female juvenile disappeared during the first year. Total 3 beavers 2010 Adult Pair (Bjornar & Katrina), One Female Juvenile (Mille) plus one kit born. Total 4 beavers 2011 Adult Pair, (Bjornar & Katrina) One Female Sub adult, one juvenile, (gender not known) one kit born later found dead Total 4 beavers 2012 Adult Pair, One Female Sub adult, three kits born from pairing of Adult male and formerly sub-adult female. 2010 kit missing. Total 6 beavers. 2013 Adult pair (Bjornar & Mille) moved to Coille Bharr, Adult female (Katrina) remaining on Dubh Loch. Three kits disappeared unaccounted for. Total 3 beavers Loch Creag Mhor 2009 Adult Pair, One Female Kit - dispersed shortly after release. Adult Male found at Craignish, 10 miles north of release site. Returned to site but later died in Edinburgh Zoo. Adult female and kit seen around Crinan Canal and signs found at Drimvore and on Shuna (island off the west coast near Oban) but beavers not recovered and are believed to be dead 2010 Sub-adult beaver pair released - Eoghan and Elaine. Total 2 beavers 2011 Sub adult pair. Eoghan swapped places with Seafield Loch male Christian. No kits. Total 2 beavers 2012 Adult pair (Christian and Elaine). No kits. Total 2 beavers. Lily Loch/Seafield Loch (called Loch Buic by Trial) 2010 Adult Male and Sub Adult female (Trude) pair released on Lily Loch. Adult male died soon after. Female moved to Seafield Loch. Later another male beaver (Christian) was released to join her. Total 2 beavers 2011 Adult Pair (Trude & Eoghan - Christian moved to Creag Mhor Loch). No kits Total 2 beavers 2012 Adult Pair, one female kit born. Total 3 beavers In total, 16 beavers have been released, 9 beavers have been born - Total 25. 5 beavers have died and 8 are unaccounted for, presumed dead. There are currently 12 beavers in the trial (March 2013).

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Beaver Not Missing After All

Just a quick update to the beaver situation on Seafield Loch. In March it was announced that the male beaver on the loch had not been seen since December and that it was officially missing. A search was instigated but no signs were found. Visitors staying at Seafield Farm Cottages in April had an early morning walk up to the loch and came back having seen and photographed two beavers. I had a look the next day and saw for myself that there were indeed two beavers on the loch. (Two beavers on Seafield Loch, April 2012, Photo courtesy of A A Kennedy) During the winter months, spotting beavers is very difficult. The hours of darkness are long and while summer visits to beaver lochs can guarantee sightings almost any evening or morning for those who know where to look, in the winter it is rare to spot the animals going about their business. The project is adamant that the beaver went walkabout and then came back and this may be the case but not seeing a beaver, doesn't mean it wasn't there all the time. We are told that this beaver has a history of going walkabout as it moved a few yards from Creag Mhor Loch to an adjacent lochan and then did a swap with the Seafield Loch male beaver which is now on the Creag Mhor lochan. Seafield Loch and Creag Mhor loch are connected by a burn, providing easy passage for a beaver. Which beaver was the usurper is impossible to say. In the absence of ear tags or other visually apparent identification, it is almost impossible to positively identify which beaver it is that you are looking at. The only way to confirm which beaver it is, is to catch it and check the micro chip and this has proved to be quite difficult - as far as I know, the Dubh Loch 2010 kit has yet to be caught and its gender confirmed. (NB, Seafield Loch is shown as Loch Buic on the OS maps but it has always been known locally as Seafield Loch).

One of our Beavers is Missing

The Knapdale Beaver Trial has been running for nearly 3 years. To recap for our new readers; in February 2008, in anticipation of the licence for the trial being granted, 2 families, each of 4 beavers were imported from Norway and housed at Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park. After Mike Russell granted the licence, a further four families; a total of 17 beavers, were imported from Norway and spent 6 months in quarantine in Devon. At the end of the quarantine only one family had survived intact to be released so the project asked for permission for the beavers at Highland Wildlife Park and the Zoo to be drafted in for the trial. The three families of 11 beavers were released near to Achnamara at the end of May 2009 to begin a five year trial. Since the beginning of the trial, 5 beavers have been added to the trial and 4 have been born. This means that a total of 34 beavers have been involved in the trial of which 11 currently remain in Knapdale. This means that 23 beavers have died or disappeared during the course of the trial so far.
At the moment there is a family of 4 beavers on the Dubh Loch. The family consists of the original adult pair, a young female of about four or five years which should have dispersed by now and a 2010 kit which has never been caught, identified or tagged. There is a family of four on Loch Linne; the original adult pair and a male juvenile born in 2010 and a kit from 2011. There is a pair on the small loch next to Creag Mhor Loch and a single female on Seafield Loch (Lochan Buic) - her mate has recently disappeared. Last year it was discovered that the males on Creag Mhor Lochan and Seafield Loch had swapped places. Three breeding pairs of beavers are not a viable population from which to draw any conclusions about whether or not beavers should be returned to Scotland.
In the meantime, the beavers living wild on Tayside and Angus continue to prosper and thrive. The numbers are estimated at around 100. These beavers are deemed to be illegal, having arrived there by escaping from captive colonies in the area and producing offspring over the past few years. They are the 'wrong' beavers being Bavarian Castor Fiber, rather than Norwegian Castor Fiber (which have been pronounced as the 'right' beavers for Scotland). An attempt in 2010 to capture the Tayside beavers resulted in one being caught which subsequently died in Edinburgh Zoo. The trapping trial was suspended and since then the minister (currently Stuart Stevenson) has been considering what should be done. An announcement has been due to be made 'shortly' for several months. One of the options is to cull the Tay beavers but it seems madness to kill a thriving population of beavers to protect the credibility of a £2 million project of a dwindling population of beavers. There is evidence that beavers existed on Tayside while there is no evidence that they were ever in Knapdale Forest. The beavers are currently not believed to be protected under wildlife legislation so can be trapped or culled by landowners and farmers. Their status is disputed by supporters of the Tay beavers who believe that they are protected and so cannot be removed. Part of the licence conditions for Knapdale include an exit strategy which includes killing the beavers. If it is shown that this option is no longer available, then the exit strategy is negated and the licence granted on a false premise.
As we approach the season when young beavers disperse to find mates and establish new territories, there are two beavers of an age to leave their family groups. In the past, dispersing beavers have simply disappeared as there are no other beavers in the area. The adult pairs on Loch Linne and Dubh Loch must be at least 7 years old, having had young with them when they arrived and they may have had kits in previous years. Producing only one kit per family in the last two years might indicate that they are coming to the end of their breeding life (beavers usually produce 2 or 3 kits and live to about 8 years in the wild) or that the habitat is not suitable. The pair on Creag Mhor Loch will be of an age to produce kits this summer.
At the end of the first year, the project predicted that there might be 30 or 40 beavers in Knapdale by the end of the trial. Given the current numbers this cannot possibly happen. Three breeding pairs are not sufficient for a viable trial and another extension to the licence would be required to import more animals. In the meantime, the Scottish Beaver Trial PR machine is working hard to promote the project with plans for beaver safaris this summer. Given the fragility of the population, is it a good idea to continually disturb the animals by taking groups of humans to the sites? We are told that the project is good for tourism but as a holiday cottage business within one mile of the nearest beavers, I have not experienced an increase in visitors or enquiries - people are interested to see the beavers when they get here but often did not know about the trial before arriving in the area. A nocturnal animal in an area renowned for its evening midges is not the greatest tourist attraction. The project has been publishing footage of beavers taken with night vision cameras, acknowledging that the beavers are difficult to spot during daylight hours. Knapdale was acknowledged as being particularly rich in biodiversity long before the arrival of the beavers and with 9 feet of rainfall in 2011, few people would assert that we need more wetlands in Argyll.
So far, studies of the Knapdale beavers have shown that beavers build lodges and dams, create bodies of water and chop down trees. They were happily doing this in Norway before being relocated to Scotland. Isn't it time we started thinking about what is best for beavers rather than what they can do for humans in terms of tourism and wetland restoration? It is telling that along the side of the forest road to Seafield Loch, blocked and flooded ditches are currently being drained by men and machines while on the other side of the road, we have installed beavers to create wetland habitat. Our environmental problems are due to the activities of man, not the absence of beavers.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Beaver Kits 2011

From STV News

'An initiative to bring beavers back to the west of Scotland has seen new births for the second year in a row.

The Scottish Beaver Trial at Knapdale forest in Argyll has reintroduced the aquatic rodents to the area, with four families currently in the wild.

Although one kit was killed by predators, a second born this summer looks to be thriving and has been spotted swimming and feeding by project staff.

Scottish Beaver Trial Field Operations Manager Roisin Campbell-Palmer said: "After a successful year last year, there were hopes for good breeding success in 2011 and indeed this year has again brought new kits to Knapdale.

"Earlier this year we saw the two families that bred successfully last year both increase the size of their lodges, and we suspected the two adult females were pregnant. Our hopes were confirmed when adults were seen repeatedly carrying fresh vegetation into the lodges.

"Recently, one of the beaver kits was found dead by our field officer and was therefore immediately removed for a full, independent post mortem examination. Early post mortem results indicate that this young animal probably died as a result of an attack by a predator but further tests are ongoing to establish an exact cause of death."

Ms Campbell-Palmer said the death was an inevitable part of any animal reintroduction and has been seen in other similar beaver reintroduction projects elsewhere in Europe.

She noted that there was no evidence of any infectious disease or malnutrition in the dead kit.

Ms Campbell-Palmer added: "So far there’s no evidence that the two younger pairs of beavers have bred, however given their age this is to be expected. They are showing all the right signs for the future: building impressive lodges, successfully maintaining their territories together, as well as continuing to put on weight since their release into the wild and appearing in good body condition.

"We’re extremely pleased to have a successful wild birth again at Knapdale Forest as part of the Scottish Beaver Trial and all indications for future breeding are extremely positive."

The Scottish Beaver Trial is a partnership project between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) and host Forestry Commission Scotland, to undertake a time-limited trial reintroduction of the European beaver to Knapdale in mid-Argyll.'

It doesn't seem to matter how the trial is going, it is always portrayed as a great success. In 2010, two kits were born, five beavers were added to the trial, one of which died. In 2011 a male beaver dispersed and has not been seen since. There was a total of 11 beavers at the end of year two of the trial.

Beavers usually produce two or three kits so for four breeding pairs to produce two kits (one to each of two older breeding pairs) must be hugely disappointing. For one of those kits to be killed by an, as yet unknown, predator must be devastating. Halfway through the trial, there have been a total of 20 beavers in Knapdale of which only 12 remain - one more than the trial started with in May 2009.

Those of us who feared being overrun by beavers, probably have very little to worry about.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Dear Editor

Dear Editor,
                   How sad it is to read that school children are being used quite cynically by being invited to name the surviving Beaver kits. The anthropomorphising of wild animals does nothing to further the understanding of them. Just how Basil the Badger, Franky Fox and Cyril Squirrel will react to the new kids on the block is unknown, but not best pleased would be my guess.
The entire disastrous Beaver introduction project has been quite promiscuous in its dishonest attempts to somehow portray a giant destructive rodent as some sort of ‘ickle furwy fing’, it is invariably called ‘charismatic’ without anyone bothering to check the meaning of the word .
How SNH and SWT have cozened and gulled so many people is a tribute to the deft and selective publication of the facts, bent and buckled to suit whatever version of the truth is likely to get attention. With the Executive failing to publish the findings of the independent review, all we have is the biased pro Beaver stance of the main participants.
That deliberately misleading information is being given to school children is a sorry reflection on the ethical integrity of those involved and the trust of schools.
The so called ‘Scottish’ Beavers already sport Scandinavian names so it will be interesting to see what the schools come up with. No doubt Sven, Brigitta and baby Maurice will be sending Christmas cards to their deluded admirers

Yours faithfully

Alexander Hamilton

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Beaver Pantomime

There are an unknown number of European Beavers living free in and around the Tay. Numbers have been estimated at anything between 7 and 50. They are said to be breeding, building lodges and doing what beavers do in the Scottish Landscape. Imagine, a group of beavers, quietly introducing themselves to the landscape, without fuss, cash incentives or an enormous carbon footprint. Isn't that great? Won't SNH be delighted? After all, that's one of the areas they identified as good habitat for beavers after dismissing Argyll as unsuitable. Well, apparently not. These beavers are the wrong beavers. They are Bavarian and it was decided that the right beavers for Scotland are Norwegian beavers. We are talking tiny genetic differences which, given that there are no Scottish beavers, seems completely irrelevant – particularly in the light of the numbers of Norwegian beavers which have died during transportation, quarantine and release. Of the 12 beavers remaining in Knapdale, only one has come from the original importation of animals for the Knapdale Trial, and it was kept under the care of Edinburgh Zoo before being released in May 2010. It's partner released at the same time, died within three weeks.

When it comes to wetland creation, tree felling and lodge and dam building, the two varieties of beaver are indistinguishable and it seems that the Bavarian beavers have a hybrid vigour lacking in the Norwegian variety which are believed by some to be from inbred populations with significant congenital disorders.

And what do SNH say?

'They are being recaptured because their presence in the wild is illegal and because their welfare may be at risk,' a spokesman said. 'There was no consultation with local people; there was no licence issued for their release; there is no monitoring of their welfare; and there is no certainty that they are the appropriate species or type of beaver for Scotland.'

A spokesman for the organisation said unauthorised releases of beavers would 'subvert and undermine the position that Scotland carries out reintroductions according to best scientific practice'.
He added: 'The longer we leave the feral beavers in the wild the greater the task of dealing with the problem will be'.
'Another reason for recapturing the Tay beavers is because the Scottish government may decide to abandon the reintroduction of beavers after the Knapdale trial'.

A Facebook group has been set up to protest against the trapping of these animals called 'Save the free beavers of the Tay' which has a lot of useful information and links to press releases and articles.

We have a group of beavers in Knapdale which are routinely monitored, trapped, examined and re-released; their movements are curtailed by fences in some cases, dams have been destroyed where they were deemed to be a threat to the Special Area of Conservation, some animals have died and others lost, the cost is around £2.5 million and initial consultation showed that a small majority of local people were opposed to the reintroduction.

No wonder there is an urgency to eradicate beavers from suitable habitat in Tayside – it makes the Knapdale Trial seem even more of a ridiculous waste of money and effort than we already thought.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Beavers Prepare for Winter

We now have twelve beavers in Knapdale, out of a total of 28 beavers imported from Norway between February 2008 and September 2010. A total of 16 have been released into the trial area and two kits have been born. Three beavers are confirmed to have died and three are missing presumed dead. The pair released onto Creag Mhor Loch in June have moved over to the un-named loch between Loch Linne and Creag Mhor. This is the least accessible loch in the trial. The single female on Seafield Loch (Lochan Buic on the OS map) has been paired up with a male imported from Norway in September. The beaver family on the Dubh Loch are an adult pair and one sub adult female and one kit born this year and the family on Loch Linne have one sub adult male and one kit born this year. While the project was delighted that kits were born, it is more usual for beavers to produce two or three kits. The sub adult beavers are now at the age when it is likely that they will disperse from their family groups and attempt to set up new territories.

The greatest impact of beavers in Knapdale can be seen at Loch Coille Bharr and Dubh Loch. The dam continues to be raised, increasing the area of flooding and the subsequent drowning of many trees in the area. The flooded path has now been bypassed with a path which follows the ridge along the side of Coille Bhar and onto a very fine pontoon across the loch, passing below the beaver dam. We await the official opening. Great care was taken to ensure that no trees were harmed during the installation of the pontoon. Increased flooding made the entrance to the new £22,000 path impassable so a local contractor has been employed to raise the path with many tons of rock and gravel and formed a dam to hold back the flooding. It seems out of place in a Special Area of Conservation.

On Loch Linne, very little has changed as their dam building activities were thwarted when the project destroyed the dam to protect the Special Area of Conservation and the beavers do not seem to have attempted to rebuild it. Many trees have been felled and the beavers have been feeding on bullrush, water lobelia and water lily.

The pair of beavers on Seafield Loch have started to build a lodge directly opposite the fishing jetty. Many small trees and several larger ones have already been felled. The road past the loch is already subject to flooding and it will not take much in the way of damming activities on the outlet burn to flood this path. Water gates and fencing have been installed on the two burns which head south to Loch Sween, to prevent the beavers leaving the trial area by this route. The gate just up from the Seafield corner has been wrecked twice by debris swept down the burn during periods of heavy rain.

The beavers in the Creag Mhor loch area are reported to be settled but there is no further information on these beavers except that the male recently received veterinary treatment for an abscess on its rump. There have been no further updates on this beaver's condition.

Princess Anne flew in by helicopter to visit the project in her capacity as Patron of RZSS. She was able to see the effects of the beavers on Loch Linne and the Dubh Loch but the animals themselves stayed out of sight.

The Knapdale beavers had 30 seconds of fame on Autumnwatch. A very short piece of footage was shown and Chris Packham told viewers that the project was in the early, sensitive stages and so visitors should perhaps wait a couple of years before coming to see them. Given that the project was delighted with the turnout of 175 people to their four beaver safaris in the summer and that the project has to show an economic benefit to the area, this doesn't seem the most helpful of advice for the project although the beavers will undoubtedly benefit from being left alone.

Photos, Female Beaver on Seafield Loch, Large tree felled on Seafield Loch, Pontoon on Coille Bharr, New path and dam at Coille Bharr, Overflowing dam on Coille Bharr, Lodge on Dubh Loch, Beginnings of lodge construction on Seafield Loch, Tree felling near lodge on Seafield Loch.