Monday, 28 December 2009

Roast Beaver with all the Trimmings

One of the ways that landowners can benefit from the introduction of European Beaver is by ‘harvesting’ the animal through sports hunting. In Europe where populations of beavers need to be controlled, this provides a very lucrative income stream from those who are prepared to pay handsomely for the opportunity to kill and eat wild animals. We can look forward to enjoying a hunting tourism boom and adding beaver meat to the Scottish diet.

I’m sure many of us have been turkeyed out over Christmas and will welcome a change for our New Year Feast. A beaver kit will feed up to four while a full grown ‘blanket’ beaver will serve up to eight.

If the beaver has been trapped rather than shot, it should be soaked overnight. All glands should be removed as should all excess fat. If roasting the beaver, it can be filled with a delicious bread, onion and sage stuffing. You can leave the head on but it is best to remove the tail. An 8 - 10 lb beaver will take 3 - 4 hours to roast and you should turn it half way through the cooking time. It can also be braised with root vegetables, garlic and wine for a deliciously tender result. Leftovers can be used to make a very tasty Lodge Pie (similar to Shepherd's or Cottage Pie). If cooking in the wild, the beaver even provides you with firewood for your barbecue.
A truly versatile animal.

A fairly robust red wine is recommended to accompany beaver meat. Enjoy!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Insomniac Beaver

Out enjoying the glorious weather in Knapdale Forest today and most surprised to see an orange tagged beaver out swimming in the middle of the day.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Beavers in the Observer

The beaver debate got an airing in the Observer Magazine on Sunday 6 December. To read the article, post the link into your web browser

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Hindsight Good, Foresight Better

In October 2007, Leif Brag wrote for the Beaver Boycott Blog and in light of the trial so far I think it is worth re-printing and reflecting on the accuracy of his observations.

KNAPDALE – Proposed Beaver Reintroduction by Leif Brag, Argyll resident
As a Wildlife manager and lover of all sorts of wildlife and nature it would only be natural of me to welcome the proposed reintroduction of European beavers in Scotland.
However, as I am convinced that the reintroduction will cause conflicts with other interests, I will have to be against the proposals, as it wouldn’t be right to put beavers through the stress of capture, transport, and radio tagging for the purpose of a trial which surely will cause problems.

SNH have tried this proposal before and it was, in my mind, rightly turned down. SNH stated in their earlier application, that the beavers would be monitored and that any beavers straying outside the trial area would be recaptured and brought back to the trial area.
SNH stated that beavers are very easy to trap. This is only true where beavers have established territories and runs, and the focus is on trapping a beaver out of a bigger population. Where beavers are roaming because of the lack of an established territory or because of being displaced by other beavers, it becomes much harder to trap individual beavers.
The fact that the beaver is known to be in the area, by radio tracking it assuming that the radio tracking works, only makes it marginally easier to trap it, as it could easily have moved on again the next day. In any case, radio transmitters can only be fitted onto the original beavers and not necessarily to their young ones.

Roy Dennis an independent ecologist has on numerous occasions stated that a forest without beavers is like running a car without oil! – Lets be serious, - Scotland has been running forestry successfully for many years without beavers, however Roy, try to run your car without oil for half an hour.

SNH has publicly requested that the Deer Commission for Scotland get their act together to control Scotland’s deer herd or they will themselves start to use their powers.
Yes, - deer cause damage to both commercial and natural woodlands and vegetation but this damage is mostly in the form of browsing, which only reduces the growth rate the trees, whereas the beaver kills every single tree that it is feeding on.
Each beaver will fell up to 2000 trees per year, in sizes varying from saplings to old mature trees. I have personally, during a trip to Norway, seen several oak trees, approximately 1’ thick, felled by beavers as well as an Aspen, which was 20” in diameter.

SNH also stated that beavers do not build dams like their American cousins. This has been taken by many to mean that European beavers do not build dams, which is incorrect. The European beavers do build dams, however not quite as big as the American beavers, but still big enough to cause problems. A former local SNH employee admitted that she was surprised to see the size of dams and the problems with the beavers, when she witnessed it for herself on a visit abroad.

Norwegian forest owners accepted the beavers for a number of years, as most trees felled by beavers are broad-leaved, which were regarded as weeds in the commercial conifer forest. However new markets for oak, birch and aspen changed the perception of the beaver and bounties were paid for killing beavers. The payment of bounties stopped after the Norwegians realised that they could get, especially Danish and German, hunters to pay for the right to shoot beavers. Ordinary people living in areas populated with beavers are still having to protect their ornamental garden trees and fruit trees with steel sheeting to a height of 4-5’, to avoid them being felled by beavers.

Swedish forest owners are having the same problems as the Norwegians. One report tells of a culvert being dammed by beaver in one knight, resulting in flooding that washed away 100 meters of the road, leading to a repair cost of SKr 600,000.00 (£40,000.00).

Denmark recently reintroduced the beaver and within one month of the reintroduction one of the beavers had travelled 20 miles and had, in one night, gone in to a garden, where it had felled all the garden owners’ fruit trees and all his Brussels sprouts. Danish authorities denied any liability, as it was a wild animal!

Germany also reintroduced the beaver and I have personally seen some of the problems in Bavaria, where the beavers have populated drainage canals in an arable area. This has led to farmers having to remove dams on a regular basis to avoid flooding. Additionally the beavers are burrowing in to the banks of the canals, causing the ground to subside when the farmer drives over the burrows with heavy machinery. I have been told that this has led to expensive repairs on at least one combine harvester.
In Germany, the owner of the hunting rights must pay compensation to farmers and forest owners for any damage caused by animals that can be hunted. This is to ensure that the hunters keep populations under control. In the case of the beaver, the German hunters have said that they do not want an open season for beavers, as they didn’t ask for the reintroduction and they don’t want the beavers to become their problem.

The idea of the reintroduction is now being aired again, this time by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society for Scotland; however the only change since the last application is that we now have a different minister in charge.
It beggars belief that wildlife organisations are so keen to spend vast sums on the reintroduction of beavers, which will be controversial and yet at the same time stand by and watch the decline of the Black grouse, and the spread of the Grey squirrel, without any real intervention other than just monitoring.

If the reintroduction was to go ahead, will the same bodies pushing for the reintroduction be prepared to pay compensation for any damage caused by the beavers?

It is not unthinkable that the beavers will find their way into the Crinan Canal, where burrows in the canal bank would be a serious issue. Likewise it is not unthinkable that flood damage akin to the Swedish example above would occur, and the beavers could easily travel further a field and cause damage in some of the wonderful botanical gardens that we have on the West coast of Scotland.

I do not have much knowledge of beaver fever, but with so much of the West coast Scotland’s drinking water being sourced from surface water, any risk, however slight, must not be allowed.

Beavers Build £100,000 lodge on Dubh Loch

The budget for the Beaver Project is rising faster than than the Dubh Loch, having increased from £1.7 million to £1.8 million. The £100,000 increase coincides with the discovery of a beaver lodge on the Dubh Loch. Far from the well appointed four bedroom Scandinavian holiday home that one might expect for such a sum, we find a heap of sticks and mud on the east side of the Dubh Loch. The loch which was a small marshy area, is rapidly becoming a substantial body of water and a more suitable habitat than the steep sided, deep Loch Coille Bharr. The one positive thing is that the lodge was decorated with rhododendron so they may be of some use in ridding us of another alien species.

The path between Coille Bharr and the Dubh Loch is now almost a metre in depth. The new sign on the gate states ‘if doing the complete circuit; you may have difficulty at this section’. Without a boat or waders it is more than difficult; it is impassable. However, the hardy walker with wellingtons can get around the 120 metre flood by heading west to the ridge along the side of Coille Bharr, crossing the beaver dam and emerging onto dry land south of the flood. Alternatively you can head east and skirt the far side of the Dubh Loch. There is no obvious path and it is not without hazard. This route is positively discouraged by the Beaver Partners as they do not want the lodge or scientific studies of the area to be disrupted. So much for the benefits to tourism.

With all the excitement about the lodge, the escapee beaver or beavers which were believed to be at Drimvore seem to have been forgotten. The latest information (not from Beaver Project sources) is that they have moved onto a neighbouring farmer’s land. The ‘easily caught’ beavers have been known to be north of Knapdale since September but continue to elude capture.

Photos 1, Beaver Lodge on the Dubh Loch 2, Ventilation Hole at the top of the lodge
3, New Tourism Signage

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

No Beaver News is rarely Good News

At the last ‘Stakeholder’ meeting on 21 August, I requested that more information was made available via the Beaver Project web site or blog. On the website there are Beaver Project Reports and minutes of the stakeholder meetings but you have to dig deep to find them. The latest ‘Breaking News’ headlined on the first page is dated 6 August. On the blog, recent entries have been about project members rather than the beavers. The information from the project is managed so that we only hear the 'good news'.

You would think that the discovery in September of one or two of the missing Creag Mhor beavers might have made it into ‘Breaking News’. It was front page news in the Argyllshire Advertiser but not worthy of a mention on the front page of the Beaver Project website. Over six weeks later, these ‘easily caught’ beavers remain at large, causing damage on private land. Failing to catch missing beavers is definitely not good news.

The only way to get reliable information is to get your wellies or waders on and check out the beaver release sites.

The Coille Bharr beavers have moved to the Dubh Loch. Even frequent walkers around Coille Bharr might not have noticed the shallow marshy loch on the other side of the path. You can’t miss it now as it extends into the woodland and across the path to where the beavers have dammed the outlet into Loch Coille Bharr. The flooding continues to expand with about 120 metres of path now impassable on foot and many trees now under water and likely to be killed by the flooding. A pipe inserted into the dam to lower water levels has been ineffective and the beavers continue to raise the level of the dam. This area is designated a Special Area of Conservation and is protected from human activitiy, but not, it would appear, from the effects of beaver activity.

Up at Loch Linne, the dam on the outflow burn has been removed. The water levels had flooded the fishing jetty but apart from that, it is hard to see why the flooding should be a cause for concern here where there are no paths to be flooded and not at Coille Bharr. It would be relatively easy to raise the level of the pier compared with the logistics of opening up the Coille Bharr walk. Loch Linne is also in the Special Area of Conservation but for some reason it is being treated as a little bit more special than Coille Bharr.

When you look at what two families of beavers have achieved in six months, it is clear that an expansion of beaver populations in Scotland will be problematic and costly. We are told that beavers will provide a 'free' land management service which is a little at odds with the current budget of £1.7 million.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Dam Destruction and Errant Beavers

On Friday 2 October, The Argyllshire Advertiser ran a front page story with full colour photo of beaver damage to trees on Baxter Nisbet’s land at Drimvore. This could only be caused by either the missing adult female beaver from Creag Mhor Loch or her female kit. These beavers had allegedly been shot or disturbed by shots in the forest on or around 6 June and had left the loch at that time. The shots were only reported to the police at the end of July when the male beaver turned up at a fish farm on Loch Craignish and the absence of one of the three released families became public. It has been a feature of the trial so far that only ‘good’ beaver news is released. The media was full of reports of a beaver having been shot and subsequently I had a visit from the police who were investigating the alleged incident. When your conscience is clear, a police car driving into your yard is a heart sinking experience.

It was anticipated that the beaver or beavers would be recaptured ‘within a fortnight’ but as of today, 19 October, they remain at Drimvore, continuing to damage trees, outside the release area.

One of the stated aims of the Beaver Project is to ‘Assess the effects of beaver activities on the environment, including a range of land uses’. Five months into the trial, I think we can already make an assessment of those effects. Beavers will not remain contained in a geographical area. They have already demonstrated that they can travel overland and through sea to find new territories and will cause damage to trees on privately owned land. It was predicted that dispersing beavers would be likely to follow watercourses to the south of the release lochs but the Creag Mhor beavers moved north.

The beavers have also shown that they are not as easy to catch as we were led to believe.

As the autumn progresses, the beavers are moving on to larger trees. Two fairly substantial trees beside Loch Linne have been felled but have hung up in the canopy making the bark and smaller branches inaccessible.

Another effect of beaver activity is flooding. The ‘Beaver Detective Trail’ around Loch Coille Bharr remains flooded and the water level continues to rise despite drier weather conditions in recent weeks. The dam which is preventing water from the Dubh Loch draining into Coille Bharr looks as if it has been deliberately lowered at one end to stop the water level rising further. The water level on Loch Linne which was threatening to submerge the fishing pier has gone down. This has happened because the dam on the outflow loch has been dug out.

How can there be a proper assessment of the impact of beavers on an area if the natural behaviour and activity of the beaver is thwarted? Giving the public a sanitised version of the consequences of beaver impact may prolong the trial for a while but if and when the population expands, it will become increasingly difficult to downplay the undesirable results of this introduction.

Photos - 1, Two large trees partially felled at Loch Linne, 2, Material dug out of Loch Linne dam, 3, Dam appears to have been disturbed at Loch Coille Bharr, 4, Water Level reduced to 7 from earlier recorded 8.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Busy Beavers on Loch Linne

A dull and drizzly day, like so many we have had lately. Up to Loch Linne to see how the beavers are getting on and to do a spot of fly fishing. Earlier sites of tree felling have been neglected in favour of several new centres of activity. The loch surface was littered with bulrush stalks which are proving popular with the beavers. In places the wind had gathered the stalks together. It was apparent that the loch level had risen since our last visit. Small islets were almost submerged and there was no difficulty getting through the channel to Loch Fidhle. A fairly large tree had been felled. It measured 360 mm at the base with a trunk of 180 mm. There were few signs of activity in Loch Fidhle - of fish or beavers. Back in the main loch, we followed the side of the loch, heading for the outlet burn. There are signs of burrowing all along this edge, none of the burrows very deep. It is little wonder that the beavers were easily hunted - their activities are easily spotted with clear tracks out of the water and easily spotted burrows.

A large number of trees had been felled along this part of the loch edge, some of the activity surprisingly far from the water's edge and quite high above the loch. Several of the trees had caught up in other trees so the beavers had been unable to to get access to the branches.

Following the burn south, we soon came upon a dam. It isn't particularly high yet but enough to raise the level of the water by several inches. There was a pile of sticks at the side of the dam which, from their colour and condition, looked as if they had been removed from the dam. This burn normally has sea trout running up it but the dam will be enough to stop them reaching the loch.

The only trout activity was one very small brownie which was put back to grow on for another season. It will not take much more damming activity for the fishing jetty to be underwater.

Photos 1, Loch Linne Dam, 2, Felled tree with 360 mm base 3, Bulrush Stalks, 4, Felled Trees, 5, Sticks at side of dam 6, Water Level at fishing jetty.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Coille Bharr Walk Closed by Beavers

Visitors to Loch Coille Bharr have been disappointed to find the very popular walk around the loch has been closed. The signs give no reason for the closure but a short walk along the path beyond the fishing jetty answers the mystery. This walk, newly transformed into a Beaver Detective Trail complete with faux beaver nibbled signposts has been closed by the very animals it intends to celebrate. The path has been flooded for a stretch of about a hundred metres between the Dubh Loch and Loch Coille Bharr. A detour to the right of the path, through the scrub towards Coille Bharr will take you to the cause of the flooding - a fairly impressive dam which has stopped the water from the Dubh Loch draining into Loch Coille Bharr. The beavers are enjoying the rich feeding on the Dubh Loch and prefer to travel by water so their engineering skills have been employed to flood the area enabling easy access from Coille Bharr to the Dubh Loch. The Dubh Loch is part of a Special Area of Conservation which means it is strictly protected and raising the level of the loch could cause problems for some of the aquatic vegetation in the loch. The Coille Bharr walk is a waymarked path, well used by locals and visitors to the area. The 'solution' to the problem is to put a pipe into the dam to let the water flow into Coille Bharr but if it has been installed, it isn't working as the water is level with the top of the dam. The positioning of the dam, blocking gaps in the rocky ridge allows for a substantial construction and there is plenty of scope for the beavers to raise the dam and water level by another metre.

What is the answer? The dam could be removed but I would expect the beavers would immediately get to work to reinstate it. The Forestry Commission could re-route the path along the side of the Loch. The beavers could be relocated to another site (if there is another suitable site) but given the problems the trial has experienced to date there would be a reluctance to disrupt a settled family. Somehow I don't think the walk is going to be open any day soon.

The photos. The first photo shows the path which was above the level of the Dubh Loch, flooded to a depth of 18 inches for a length of 100 metres. The second photo shows the back of the dam with a newly formed body of water behind it. The third photo shows the way the beavers support the back of the dam with sticks placed at an angle to hold it in place against the pressure of water. The fourth photo is the sign advising that the walk is closed without any explanation of the cause of closure.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The Wanderer Returns? Or Not?

The following information appeared on the Scottish Beaver Project Blog but has now completely disappeared from the site. For those who missed the blog post and the information on the capture and re-release of the adult male beaver which absconded from Creag Mhor Loch back in June, here is the text of the blog article. One wonders why the post has been removed.

Thursday, 13 August 2009
Wanderer Returns
This blog has been quiet for the last two weeks because I'm on holiday, but last night I couldn't resist crawling out of hiding after receiving a phone call from Simon with very good news: he and his super trapping team, John, Richard and Nick, had been up to the fish farm at Port na Moine and recaptured Andreas Bjorn.
In the end it hadn't been too difficult since Andreas was using a small stream. They dug the trap in down stream and waited quietly with pig boards and a large net until he wandered towards it. Sneaking in behind him to block escape up stream, they walked quietly and calmly towards him and ushered him into the trap. There were no dramas, from what they said it all went very smoothly.
Samples of faeces, castoreum, and anal gland secretion were taken and Andreas was fitted with a new satellite tag so that now we can see where he is (or where the tag is!) simply by logging on the the computer. Of course he will still have to be watched by observers in order to assess his condition and ensure that the tag is still attached.

Andreas was quickly transported back to Creag Mhor, the loch that he had originally been released into, Richard sat in the back of the truck for the journey along the forestry track in order to prevent the precious cargo from being bumped about.
It took under 1.5 hours from capture to return to the water and when I joined them by the loch side to be able to assess his condition for myself, he looked bright and alert although he has lost some bodyweight during his adventure.
Food was put out for him along the loch side in order to provide an easy high energy meal, and Andreas's box was opened. Without hesitation, he swam out into the calm water and we left him in peace to settle.
The electric fence has been turned on and the streams leading out of the site have been marked with the unfamiliar scent of another dominant male beaver in order to help deter him from moving. Time will tell how well this works and what Andreas decides his next move will be.
Posted by Jenny Holden at Thursday, August 13, 2009

Monday, 17 August 2009


We have recently heard that the beaver people have trapped the Craignish Loch escapee beaver and plan to return it to Creag Mhor Loch - all alone (an unnatural state for beaver who live in family groups - when they are happy and not imported in to alien environments via large concrete sheds.)
It will be interesting to see how or perhaps IF they manage to keep it there.

Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill

To contribute to the debate and to read more about it Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill - Consultation Document
Deadline 4 September


Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Scottish Beaver Trial: Project Update No. 2

SBT have sent out their second project update which says that everything is going very well and that the disappearing beavers were probably frightened away but gunshots heard in the area just before they abandoned the loch and headed for the canal and beyond. Police have been informed and investigations are ongoing. This was only made public when one of the missing beavers turned up at Lakeland Marine Fish Farm on Craignish Loch, inconveniently disproving the ‘facts’ that beavers don’t go into salt water, that they would be geographically contained in Knapdale and that they wouldn’t get into the Crinan Canal. So far, the only people known to be responsible for the deaths of beavers during the trial are the members of the Scottish Beaver Project.

The three Creag Mhor beavers left the loch in the second week of the trial, around the 7 June. This information was not made public and the whiteboard at Barnluasgan continues to proclaim that there are 10 beavers in Knapdale (last updated 2 August). It was known on 28 July that there was a beaver at the fish farm. The continuing misinformation from SBT does not help the project’s credibility with the beaver sceptics among us.

The project update also says that SBT ‘will be proposing that a fourth family or pair of animals is released into the trial area as soon as is practically possible’. This has to be agreed by the Scottish Government. The additional release is to ‘establish a small, but viable population of animals within the trial area and therefore fulfill the objectives of the trial and licence’.

The licence conditions ‘recommend the collection and quarantine of a fourth family as a useful back-up, in case of any mortality during the quarantine period’ . Point 7 states ‘We would strongly recommend one simultaneous release of all the animals at the start of the trial, rather than a series of phased releases’.

If you share my opposition to the introduction of beavers to Scotland, I suggest you write to Roseanne Cunningham, Minister for Environment at the Scottish Government.

In the meantime, the six beavers remaining on the release lochs continue to fell many trees and flood the footpath at Coille Bharr. Well worth 2 million pounds.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

A report in the Argyllshire Advertiser 7 August 2009

Beavers disappear after gun shots fired

Wildlife crime not ruled out

Published: 07 August, 2009

A FRANTIC search for three beavers has been under way, after rifle shots were fired close to the Scottish Beaver Trial site in North Knapdale.

Police are investigating the unauthorised shooting on Forestry Commission land. Staff monitoring the beavers believe two were scared away while there has been no trace of a third since the incident. The possibility that this adult female has been deliberately or accidentally shot has not been ruled out.
Field Trial Officer Jenny Holden had been walking with her partner on June 6 when they heard rifle shots close to Loch Chreag Mhor, where a family of three beavers had been released the previous week.
She said: ‘When we returned to look for the beavers the next evening, only one beaver was seen in the loch.’ Strathclyde police wildlife crime officers were informed and trial staff began an extensive search for the two missing adult beavers. The male was sighted on the Crinan Canal, and later it appeared the juvenile left the loch to join him but staff could not catch up with either creature.
Then last week, signs of beaver life were spotted at a fish farm at Port na Moine on Loch Craignish. Farm manager Ian Webster said teeth marks were found on a 20ft tree in their yard. He said: ‘The beaver got half way through felling and the trunk snapped.’ Staff removed the tree and Mr Webster added: ‘They do travel quite a long way and they can cause quite a bit of damage.’
Although beaver trial workers deployed radio tracking equipment to locate the beaver, which they believe is the missing adult male, it had not been found as the Argyllshire Advertiser went to press. The whereabouts of the juvenile is still unknown, though they believe it may have been following the scent of its parent.
Of the missing female adult, Ms Holden said they were very concerned: ‘We don’t know whether she has been shot or whether she has been frightened. It is very unusual circumstances for a beaver, especially a female, to go away from the young.’
She added the other two beaver families had not been disturbed and were continuing to attract wildlife watchers. Although electronic tags have come off two animals, staff know their whereabouts and will re-tag them in the autumn.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Beaver Reintroduction - Dr Keith Skene

There are three issues: philosophical, biological and ecological

1. Philosophical
Garden of Eden Fantasy
What I also refer to as “Golden Age environmentalism”, the compulsive yet foundationless desire to recreate some habitat from the past, by “re-wilding”. This is a very strange concept, given that you cannot go back in time. What is Eden, and when was it? 15000 years ago, for example, most of Britain was covered in ice. It’s a bit like plastic surgery – it may make you look 20 years younger, but beneath it, you’re still the same age, and getting older by the day! Unfortunately, some of our leading environmental organizations practice this cosmetic approach to conservation. Scottish Natural Heritage, for example, appears to be playing a game of King Canute at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve, where they cut down birch and willow in an attempt to “freeze” the dune system.

We live in a changing world: communities have evolved away from what they were 400 years ago, when the beaver was last in Scotland, and from 800 years ago, when the beaver was in England. The industrial and agricultural revolutions, human population expansion, urbanization and climate change have made this a very different place.

2. Biology
The European beaver is actually made up of 8 sub-species. The decision to move one of these, the Norwegian sub-species, to Scotland is extremely dubious. At the end of the last ice age, the most likely sub species was the French one (Castor fiber gallicus), because the land bridge was to France, not to Norway. Norway was covered in ice just like Britain, and so the Mediterranean refuges were much more likely to form the source of our beavers. DNA analysis of beaver pelts from British beavers could be done to check this, but, surprisingly, this hasn’t been done.

A study in the journal Molecular Ecology by Walter Durka (Germany) and his colleagues – leading expert) stressed that geographically nearest form should be used, and that there was a huge danger related to re-wilding in terms of the future evolution of the beaver. In evolutionary terms, species start off as sub-species, and to intervene in this process by moving groups around the continent, we are potentially impacting on the future direction of Beaver evolution.

3. Ecology
The context of an organism is everything. Every species needs food and a predator for a natural balance to be achieved. Without the predator, the population will, always, spiral out of control without culling. But what is the point of bringing the beaver here just to be culled? There is a moral issue here. Beavers are advanced mammals, and so if our actions deliberately lead to us needing to cull, then this is not a positive approach. Culling is also not a simple process.

By killing particular beavers, we will not necessarily replicate the natural force of predation, because we may not kill the weaker beavers, but rather the stronger ones (for example those that disperse most). This can lead to a genetically weakened population, and thus to all sorts of genetic problems.

Suggestions that beavers that spread too far will be culled, in order to prevent their spread, are also extremely worrying. For example, after 2 years, juvenile beavers migrate from their natal site. They can travel up to 150 km. The reasons for this are to reduce population load at a particular habitat, and, even more importantly, to prevent inbreeding. If we do not allow these migrations to happen, inbreeding depression will occur, and this can lead to terrible deformities. Do we really want this? To avoid this, we would need to allow these migrations. If we do this, then there can be no control on the spread of these creatures, and they are likely to encounter roads, probably acting as a significant hazard to drivers.

It is no use citing examples that have run for 30 years in mainland Europe. Most of these have been disastrous in terms of mixing sub-species anyway. The consequences of genetic inbreeding play out over much greater timescales, but are likely to happen more quickly if the introduced populations are of the same subspecies, as mating between different sub-species (which must not happen) leads to genetic outbreeding (also a potential disaster, as specialized traits can be diluted or destroyed). The introductions of the sixties involved different sub-species, and so are not comparable to the single sub-species introductions to be used in the UK. So as we improve our purity of introduced individuals, ironically, we will increase the risk of inbreeding depression happening much more quickly.

As we have seen re-wilding is not a sensible idea. Neither is the use of the beaver for tourism. First, they are basically nocturnal, and in a British summer, this will mean 10pm. Shortly after seeing them, it gets dark. So safety concerns will come into play, as tourists have to try to get back off the water or river bank in dark conditions. Secondly, the moral issue of disturbing a shy and reclusive animal must be considered. The beavers do not want to be seen, and ecological tourism will be very detrimental to them, stressing them, and suppressing their immune system, due to an increase in cortisol levels. This will increase their susceptibility to a range of diseases, potentially leading them to become disease vectors. This has been widely researched, for example with mountain gorilla tourism of the 1980s.

One beaver family destroys 300 young trees in a single winter. Tree regeneration is difficult enough with rabbits and deer already putting unacceptable pressure upon young saplings. However the beaver removes bark, which contains the main transport system for sugar, thus killing the tree. Grey squirrels also do this, and so in combination, this is an unacceptable problem.

To use the beaver as a means of terraforming (changing a habitat into one that works for us) is an extremely risky strategy. The Harlequin ladybird was introduced to act as a predator on aphids, and now its population has run out of control in the UK and threatens many of our native ladybirds. The cane toad, introduced to Australia to kill insect pests of sugar cane, didn’t eat the pests, but instead ate many endangered insects, and has greatly damaged the other species. Biological control and biological engineering is never likely to work because the ecology is usually too complex to model and predict. It is like a car mechanic attempting brain surgery. In fact it is like a brain surgeon attempting brain surgery – the outcome is not secure.

Dr Keith Skene is the Convenor of the Board of Environmental and Applied Biology at Dundee University. His areas of expertise include Forensic Science. Conservation biology. Global Warming, Ecology and Botany. His latest book 'Shadows on the Cave Wall: A New Theory of Evolution', is now available exclusively from the publisher at:

Beavers in Knapdale. The Story so Far

It is now two months since eleven European Beavers were released into three lochs in Knapdale Forest and it is clear that the trial is not going very well for those who are in charge of the enterprise. The original plan was to release four families, totalling up to 18 animals onto four lochs. Five beavers died in quarantine, we are told that four are being kept in reserve - although the licence conditions recommended that an additional family was kept in reserve ‘in case of any mortality during the quarantine period’ and ‘strongly recommended’ that there should be ‘one simultaneous release of all the animals rather than a series of phased releases’. A release of the spare family is currently being considered, contrary to the licence conditions.

Of the eleven beavers released, one juvenile died shortly after release. One family consisting of one adult breeding pair and two juvenile females were released on Coille Bharr. Three beavers, a breeding pair and one juvenile female were released on Creag Mhor Loch and the three surviving members of another family were released on Loch Linne. Within a few days, the Creag Mhor beavers had left the release site. The juvenile female was said to be ‘on or adjacent to’ the Crinan Canal and the other two were ‘moving between Creag Mhor Loch and the Canal’. Sometime after that, it was rumoured that a tagged beaver had been spotted heading for Duntrune Castle. I took this with a pinch of salt as it seemed too delicious an irony that a beaver was heading straight for the home of Robin Malcom who is a stalwart opponent of the introduction. Since then, there has been a confirmed sighting of an adult male beaver at the fish farm on Loch Craignish so clearly the rumour was true. The adult female is unaccounted for. On Coille Bharr, one of the juvenile females has dispersed from the family and is thought to be somewhere between Loch Coille Bharr and the Faery Isles but according to SWT’s Beaver Blog is ‘really hard to find in the stream that she's inhabiting because of all the rocks and trees causing the signal to bounce’! Is that a euphemism for ‘we don’t know where she is?’

It would appear that only six beavers, a little over 50% of the original group, remain on the release lochs and those that have dispersed, presumably in the hope of finding a mate, are going to be sorely disappointed and destined to spend their lives as solitary animals in an alien environment. The juvenile offspring from Coille Bharr and Loch Linnhe will face the same problem when they reach maturity. The juvenile female on the Canal has managed to evade capture so far, despite pre-release assurances that beavers are easy to trap. It remains to be seen how easy it will be to re-capture the one at Old Poltalloch. If the adult male and juvenile female are returned to Creag Mhor Loch are they likely to stay, having chosen to leave the loch in the first place? An electric fence strung across the north end of the loch is unlikely to deter them when the forest road next to the loch provides an easy passage down to the Canal. Beavers may prefer to travel by water but they are clearly able to travel overland if necessary. Would the adult male and his female offspring be likely to form a breeding couple and is it desirable that closely related animals are encouraged to breed? The gene pool of 11 beavers from one area is likely to be limited, adding interbreeding to the equation cannot be a good idea.

While the evidence shows that the project has encountered several problems, the output on the SWT blog and on the whiteboard in the Beaver Information Centre at Barnluasgan, remains resolutely up-beat and to the casual observer it would appear that everything so far has been a resounding success. The whiteboard updated on 30 July 2009 proclaims there are 10 beavers in Knapdale. SWT and SNH were made aware on 28 July that a beaver was on Craignish Loch, well outside Knapdale Forest. Such deliberately misleading statements can only further compromise the credibility and integrity of those in charge of this inadvisable and costly project.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Copy of letter sent to newspapers following revelation of Edinburgh meeting

Dear Sir,
The Scottish Wildlife Trust, currently misleading the public with its latest beaver propaganda, is revealed as even more underhand than previously thought with the discovery that they and the SNP have been in secret talks with several commercial interests. Held in Edinburgh, the talks, to which none of the local land owners or concerned residents were invited, were concerned with compensation packages! That’s more of your money and my money being used to buy off the big business objection to the proposed beaver introduction . Is this what we can expect more of in Alec Salmond's brave new Scotland, shifty politicians doing shabby deals behind closed doors?
What with Mike Russell's bizarre desire to be known as the man responsible for the introduction of an alien life form and the consequent environmental degradation and SWT, desperate to let beaver loose all over Scotland, the future for indigenous species and existing habitats is bleak, but very rosy for those careless of the consequences of obsession driven agendas.
Yours faithfully
Alexander Hamilton