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. scottish.ministers@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

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: www.ardmachapress.com

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.