Thursday, 2 December 2010

Beaver Pantomime

There are an unknown number of European Beavers living free in and around the Tay. Numbers have been estimated at anything between 7 and 50. They are said to be breeding, building lodges and doing what beavers do in the Scottish Landscape. Imagine, a group of beavers, quietly introducing themselves to the landscape, without fuss, cash incentives or an enormous carbon footprint. Isn't that great? Won't SNH be delighted? After all, that's one of the areas they identified as good habitat for beavers after dismissing Argyll as unsuitable. Well, apparently not. These beavers are the wrong beavers. They are Bavarian and it was decided that the right beavers for Scotland are Norwegian beavers. We are talking tiny genetic differences which, given that there are no Scottish beavers, seems completely irrelevant – particularly in the light of the numbers of Norwegian beavers which have died during transportation, quarantine and release. Of the 12 beavers remaining in Knapdale, only one has come from the original importation of animals for the Knapdale Trial, and it was kept under the care of Edinburgh Zoo before being released in May 2010. It's partner released at the same time, died within three weeks.

When it comes to wetland creation, tree felling and lodge and dam building, the two varieties of beaver are indistinguishable and it seems that the Bavarian beavers have a hybrid vigour lacking in the Norwegian variety which are believed by some to be from inbred populations with significant congenital disorders.

And what do SNH say?

'They are being recaptured because their presence in the wild is illegal and because their welfare may be at risk,' a spokesman said. 'There was no consultation with local people; there was no licence issued for their release; there is no monitoring of their welfare; and there is no certainty that they are the appropriate species or type of beaver for Scotland.'

A spokesman for the organisation said unauthorised releases of beavers would 'subvert and undermine the position that Scotland carries out reintroductions according to best scientific practice'.
He added: 'The longer we leave the feral beavers in the wild the greater the task of dealing with the problem will be'.
'Another reason for recapturing the Tay beavers is because the Scottish government may decide to abandon the reintroduction of beavers after the Knapdale trial'.

A Facebook group has been set up to protest against the trapping of these animals called 'Save the free beavers of the Tay' which has a lot of useful information and links to press releases and articles.

We have a group of beavers in Knapdale which are routinely monitored, trapped, examined and re-released; their movements are curtailed by fences in some cases, dams have been destroyed where they were deemed to be a threat to the Special Area of Conservation, some animals have died and others lost, the cost is around £2.5 million and initial consultation showed that a small majority of local people were opposed to the reintroduction.

No wonder there is an urgency to eradicate beavers from suitable habitat in Tayside – it makes the Knapdale Trial seem even more of a ridiculous waste of money and effort than we already thought.