27 May 2010 was a busy day in Knapdale. It was almost a year since the introduction of eleven beavers to Knapdale Forest; media attention was at its height, SWT & RZSS published a very upbeat press release in which it was stated that there were ‘signs of success’, and the latest additions to the beaver trial on 4 May were said to be ‘settling in well’. What it didn’t mention was that on the same day, one of those well settled beavers, (having not been seen for about 10 days) was found dead in it’s lodge only 23 days after release. This news was not released until the tv cameras and national press had left the area to pursue the next story.
During the consultation prior to the granting of the licence we were given a lot of information about beavers and how they might behave in Scotland. So, one year on, what have we learned about Beavers in Knapdale?
Beavers do not enjoy six months living in totally unnatural quarantine conditions.
Beavers are social animals and do not thrive alone.
Beavers do build dams and cause flooding.
Beavers are better than humans when assessing suitable beaver sites.
Beavers do kill trees.
Beavers do travel in the sea.
Beavers alter and manage wetlands but they do not ‘do it for free’.
Beavers are not ‘geographically contained in Knapdale’.
Beavers are not easy to catch.
Beaver Radio Tracking Devices fall off beavers.
Beavers require constant monitoring and management.
Of the 25 beavers which were imported from Norway in 2008, 12 have died, 3 are missing presumed dead, 7 remain in Knapdale (two settled families of 3 and a single female currently on the move) and 3 are either dead or still in captivity in Edinburgh Zoo or Highland Wildlife Park.
The Scottish Government has granted permission for the introduction of a further pair of beavers (the fifth family or pair to be introduced bringing the total of families/pairs in Knapdale up to three. Four pairs are considered the minimum requirement for a viable trial) and the replacement of adult beavers which die or disperse from the trial site up to May 2011.
In more than 10 years since the project was first proposed, the budget has increased from something in the region of £400,000, to £700,000, to £1.7 million, to something over £2 million.
Environmental Benefits A small loch has been enlarged creating a slightly larger area of wetland which as a percentage of Argyll’s wetland is infinitessimal.
Environmental Casualties Many trees have been felled or flooded removing woodland habitat.
Tourism & Economic Benefits Visitors to the area have been able to view beavers. Hotels and Community Venues hosting Beaver Consultation and Stakeholder meetings have benefited.
Tourism Casualties Visitors have been denied access to the walk around Loch Coille Bharr (the recently rebranded Beaver Detective Trail) due to thigh high flooding on the path.
With another four years of the trial to go, it is impossible to predict the outcome but whatever happens, Knapdale will remain a wonderfully beautiful area with an astonishing range of wildlife which is in no way dependent on the presence of beavers.
Photos: Single Female Beaver on Seafield Loch (Lochan Buic) 15 June 2010. This beaver is the surviving animal of the pair released onto the Lily Loch 4 May 2010.
Beavers on Lily Loch 9 May 2010, before the death of the male during May 2010. The male has green ear tags.
I write to express my dismay at the depletion in the number of Beaver in Knapdale. Surely the experiment must fail if SWT runs out of subjects, though as they set it up they can vary it to suit. I do hope the Zoo has been quietly stocking up for just such an eventuality. Having had to do so already, I hope they have a supply chain in place, now that the death of Beavers is an expected by- product of the endeavour.
I don’t remember SWT or SNH being particularly frank about the expected losses, but the fact SNH is involved is par for the course. Having been instrumental in the slaughter of some 600 or so Hedgehogs on the Uists, it is no surprise to find them involved in the deaths of another species
Hence my concern, if we run out of Beaver, will they look elsewhere for a suitable subject? Something like the Mink perhaps, this charismatic animal is a keystone predator and as such is responsible for the successful elimination of noisy seabird colonies and those nasty wee water voles.
Oddly enough, the Mink too was introduced into the wild by well meaning interfering busybodies. True, they didn’t have 2 million pounds to spend, but I think we can safely say that Mink are a success story.
I’m sure SNH aren’t too fussed about the species just as long as it can be killed in the interests of environment/ecology/habitat and EU dictat. So please can we have more Beaver, it surely makes sense to kill alien species rather than indigenous ones.
It is difficult not to feel contempt for Mike Russell, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and Scottish Natural Heritage et al over the intended beaver introduction. Not the same contempt that they have displayed for procedure during the risible consultation period and subsequently, I don’t have the right sort of cynicicm. If the opposite of the truth is a lie then between them, from Alec Salmond down, they have indulged themselves. SWT`s campaign of deliberate misinformation and evasion seemed to spur the other participants on. We learn from Mike Russell that “the people of Scotland” want this introduction, yet if you read the SNH survey you will discover that only 39 people, not even 39%, were in favour. Alec Salmond says that beaver were “highlighted” by SNH in their species action framework; not so, it merely appears on a list. Mike Russell said he was confident that SNH would give him unbiased advice! Is this the same SNH that spent over £83,000 trying to introduce beaver themselves? The same SNH that SWT says asked them to apply for the licence so that they wouldn’t appear to be involved? The same SNH that produced a report that said it was highly unlikely that a viable beaver population could exist in Scotland without human intervention. SWT boast that they will release them anywhere they can and then wash their hands of any responsibility thereafter. This from a charity supposedly protecting existing animals; I wonder just how honest they have been with their membership.
SNH has a list of invasive species, and more are arriving all the time, from Knotweed to American crayfish, Japanese shrimp to the New Zealand Flatworm, and let’s not forget the mink, the grey squirrel, and Sika Deer. They are big on reports because it looks like they are doing something, but action on the ground is a bit thin. So much more fun to connive with SWT to spend £2 million pounds on the introduction of another non-native life form. Mike Russell, parroting SWT, calls it a “charismatic” creature. It is certainly one way of describing a giant water rat famous for its destructive habits; in Europe hundreds of millions of euros are spent annually putting right the damage they cause to the infrastructure.
It’s worth remembering that SNH are the people who would rather slaughter hedgehogs on the Uists, because “they might get stressed” in a box on the ferry to the mainland. Now they have no qualms, moral or ethical, about trapping 40/50 beavers in Norway, transporting them in box to Scotland, quarantining them in questionably suitable security, trapping them again, putting them back in a box and taking them to Argyll. The release site in North Knapdale is designated SSSI and contains rare aquatic plants and other protected species such as, adders, newts, divers and dragonflies. It is an eco-system that has evolved over several hundred years without benefit of beaver and is a rich and diverse habitat. It was 4th on the SNH list of suitable beaver release sites, but presumably being on Forestry Commission land (themselves historically notorious for landscape abuse) it was the easiest option. Mike Russell, again parroting SWT, points to the creation of ponds and wetlands as one of the benefits of beaver, as these already exist, as he well knows, I wonder where he is referring to. All parties are keen to stress the species diversity advantages, without actually being able to be specific. No one has as yet revealed what it is that Argyll lacks that beaver will encourage. They also of course fail to point out that the existing species will be put at risk and that some will disappear altogether, but as there doesn’t appear to be a comprehensive species audit, we`ll never know. If at the end of the trial period the beaver are removed, will SWT and SNH be able to restore the ecosystem they have wantonly destroyed in the name of some very doubtful science?
If you or I were to pick the rare water lily or catch a newt, the full force of outraged environmental guardians would be brought to bear. So how is it that Mike Russell can get a giant rodent to do it and it’s all right? If this ill-conceived and pointless endeavour is successful, there will be a cost, financially and environmentally, a tab to be picked up by our children, who will no doubt wonder who the arrogant, self aggrandising perpetrators were, and why they were allowed to get away with it.
Open letter to papers and the Scottish Government
Dear Sir, It seems that it might be up to eight beaver that have died, certainly five died during their incarceration in a concrete floored shed during quarantine. They died to boost the ego of the former Environment Minister. They died as a consequence of lies told by Alec Salmond. They died because of Scottish Natural Heritage and political chicanery. They died because of the arrogance of the Scottish Wildlife Trust. They died because no one cared enough, not the opposition in Edinbrough, not the big businesses upon which they might deprade, nor the public, lulled and gulled by SWT’s pernicious propaganda. Presumably they are considered the broken eggs for the TWO AND A HALF MILLION pound eco-omelette being foisted on Argyll.
Now that so many have died, is the trial introduction still a valid endeavour? It has been admitted that the original number of beaver was insufficient for a proper trial, and that the five year trial period was not long enough for a proper study. So one does rather wonder how so many people got caught up in this fraudulent scheme. Because of the former minister’s ludicrous ambition to be known as the man who brought beaver to Scotland, no independent assessment was ever conducted. All the information, most of it of a blatant bias, has been generated by SWT and SNH. Should beaver become a problem after SWT’s Simon Milne has achieved his ambition to release them all over Scotland his solution is to issue hunting licences.
This whole ill starred enterprise is as ethically and morally bankrupt as the instigators who sponsor it. It was an act of despoliation to introduce a giant destructive rodent into a centuries old closed eco-system, which incidentally, already contained everything supposedly encouraged by beaver, except the hairy dragonfly. A TWO AND A HALF MILLION pound dragonfly needs to be bloody spectacular! It’s all there will be, that, and some dead trees.