Just a quick update to the beaver situation on Seafield Loch. In March it was announced that the male beaver on the loch had not been seen since December and that it was officially missing. A search was instigated but no signs were found. Visitors staying at Seafield Farm Cottages in April had an early morning walk up to the loch and came back having seen and photographed two beavers. I had a look the next day and saw for myself that there were indeed two beavers on the loch.
(Two beavers on Seafield Loch, April 2012, Photo courtesy of A A Kennedy)
During the winter months, spotting beavers is very difficult. The hours of darkness are long and while summer visits to beaver lochs can guarantee sightings almost any evening or morning for those who know where to look, in the winter it is rare to spot the animals going about their business.
The project is adamant that the beaver went walkabout and then came back and this may be the case but not seeing a beaver, doesn't mean it wasn't there all the time. We are told that this beaver has a history of going walkabout as it moved a few yards from Creag Mhor Loch to an adjacent lochan and then did a swap with the Seafield Loch male beaver which is now on the Creag Mhor lochan. Seafield Loch and Creag Mhor loch are connected by a burn, providing easy passage for a beaver. Which beaver was the usurper is impossible to say. In the absence of ear tags or other visually apparent identification, it is almost impossible to positively identify which beaver it is that you are looking at. The only way to confirm which beaver it is, is to catch it and check the micro chip and this has proved to be quite difficult - as far as I know, the Dubh Loch 2010 kit has yet to be caught and its gender confirmed.
(NB, Seafield Loch is shown as Loch Buic on the OS maps but it has always been known locally as Seafield Loch).
The Knapdale Beaver Trial has been running for nearly 3 years. To recap for our new readers; in February 2008, in anticipation of the licence for the trial being granted, 2 families, each of 4 beavers were imported from Norway and housed at Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park. After Mike Russell granted the licence, a further four families; a total of 17 beavers, were imported from Norway and spent 6 months in quarantine in Devon. At the end of the quarantine only one family had survived intact to be released so the project asked for permission for the beavers at Highland Wildlife Park and the Zoo to be drafted in for the trial. The three families of 11 beavers were released near to Achnamara at the end of May 2009 to begin a five year trial.
Since the beginning of the trial, 5 beavers have been added to the trial and 4 have been born. This means that a total of 34 beavers have been involved in the trial of which 11 currently remain in Knapdale. This means that 23 beavers have died or disappeared during the course of the trial so far.
At the moment there is a family of 4 beavers on the Dubh Loch. The family consists of the original adult pair, a young female of about four or five years which should have dispersed by now and a 2010 kit which has never been caught, identified or tagged. There is a family of four on Loch Linne; the original adult pair and a male juvenile born in 2010 and a kit from 2011. There is a pair on the small loch next to Creag Mhor Loch and a single female on Seafield Loch (Lochan Buic) - her mate has recently disappeared. Last year it was discovered that the males on Creag Mhor Lochan and Seafield Loch had swapped places. Three breeding pairs of beavers are not a viable population from which to draw any conclusions about whether or not beavers should be returned to Scotland.
In the meantime, the beavers living wild on Tayside and Angus continue to prosper and thrive. The numbers are estimated at around 100. These beavers are deemed to be illegal, having arrived there by escaping from captive colonies in the area and producing offspring over the past few years. They are the 'wrong' beavers being Bavarian Castor Fiber, rather than Norwegian Castor Fiber (which have been pronounced as the 'right' beavers for Scotland). An attempt in 2010 to capture the Tayside beavers resulted in one being caught which subsequently died in Edinburgh Zoo. The trapping trial was suspended and since then the minister (currently Stuart Stevenson) has been considering what should be done. An announcement has been due to be made 'shortly' for several months. One of the options is to cull the Tay beavers but it seems madness to kill a thriving population of beavers to protect the credibility of a £2 million project of a dwindling population of beavers. There is evidence that beavers existed on Tayside while there is no evidence that they were ever in Knapdale Forest. The beavers are currently not believed to be protected under wildlife legislation so can be trapped or culled by landowners and farmers. Their status is disputed by supporters of the Tay beavers who believe that they are protected and so cannot be removed. Part of the licence conditions for Knapdale include an exit strategy which includes killing the beavers. If it is shown that this option is no longer available, then the exit strategy is negated and the licence granted on a false premise.
As we approach the season when young beavers disperse to find mates and establish new territories, there are two beavers of an age to leave their family groups. In the past, dispersing beavers have simply disappeared as there are no other beavers in the area. The adult pairs on Loch Linne and Dubh Loch must be at least 7 years old, having had young with them when they arrived and they may have had kits in previous years. Producing only one kit per family in the last two years might indicate that they are coming to the end of their breeding life (beavers usually produce 2 or 3 kits and live to about 8 years in the wild) or that the habitat is not suitable. The pair on Creag Mhor Loch will be of an age to produce kits this summer.
At the end of the first year, the project predicted that there might be 30 or 40 beavers in Knapdale by the end of the trial. Given the current numbers this cannot possibly happen. Three breeding pairs are not sufficient for a viable trial and another extension to the licence would be required to import more animals. In the meantime, the Scottish Beaver Trial PR machine is working hard to promote the project with plans for beaver safaris this summer. Given the fragility of the population, is it a good idea to continually disturb the animals by taking groups of humans to the sites? We are told that the project is good for tourism but as a holiday cottage business within one mile of the nearest beavers, I have not experienced an increase in visitors or enquiries - people are interested to see the beavers when they get here but often did not know about the trial before arriving in the area. A nocturnal animal in an area renowned for its evening midges is not the greatest tourist attraction. The project has been publishing footage of beavers taken with night vision cameras, acknowledging that the beavers are difficult to spot during daylight hours. Knapdale was acknowledged as being particularly rich in biodiversity long before the arrival of the beavers and with 9 feet of rainfall in 2011, few people would assert that we need more wetlands in Argyll.
So far, studies of the Knapdale beavers have shown that beavers build lodges and dams, create bodies of water and chop down trees. They were happily doing this in Norway before being relocated to Scotland. Isn't it time we started thinking about what is best for beavers rather than what they can do for humans in terms of tourism and wetland restoration? It is telling that along the side of the forest road to Seafield Loch, blocked and flooded ditches are currently being drained by men and machines while on the other side of the road, we have installed beavers to create wetland habitat. Our environmental problems are due to the activities of man, not the absence of beavers.
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.