Monday, 3 August 2009

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment