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.