Scottish Wild Beaver Group
Briefing Paper to the Scottish Government
The Tay Beavers.
How long have the beavers been there?
Beavers existed in Britain for 11,000 years before they were driven to extinction by the end of the 18th century (Coles 2007 ‘Beavers in Britain’s Landscape). This means that they have only been absent for 200 years of the last 11,000. (1.8 %)
Beaver evidence from the Neolithic was discovered during the archaeological study of the crannog on Loch Tay.
The earliest confirmed sighting of a beaver in Tayside in recent years was in the Earn May in 2001.
We have an email from Hugh Chalmers to Paul Ramsay describing the sighting, by eight people in two canoes. Hugh had watched beavers in Norway in 1998, so he knew what it was.
Since this first sighting, reports have come in steadily from around the area. This means it is likely that they have bred for more than one generation – possibly up to five generations. Many of them were born in Scotland.
Natural England’s Paper on beaver reintroduction states: “The UK would … be obliged to protect the species, once it became established in the wild.”
The Scottish Government’s rejection of the first trial application in 2005 states: “The release of European beaver in Scotland would grant the species full legal protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.”
How many are there and where are they?
The total number is not known but it is thought that there may be up to about 50.
There have been reported sightings on the Earn, Tay, Isla, Ericht and Dean Water – from Aberfeldy to Glamis and Comrie to Bridge of Earn and Invergowrie, including lodges (evidence of breeding) and young. Some exact locations are being kept secret by beaver watchers. Others are better known.
The SNH/SG position is that we should be introducing only Norwegian or at least only Western beavers. The ones in Tayside are likely to be of mixed of western and eastern origins, descending from a robust hybrid used for reintroduction to Bavaria.
They argue that we must follow IUCN guidelines that say reintroductions should be of the type most like the one that was there before. Firstly – this document states on Page 5 “These guidelines are intended to act as a guide for procedures useful to re-introduction programmes and do not represent an inflexible code of conduct.”
Secondly, in the case of beavers there are three good reasons to question the validity of being too precise about matching beaver types:
1. There is very little evidence in the archaeological record to go on.
2. All three of the western beaver populations are based on a tiny remnant and are “genetically depauperate.”
3. There are only tiny genetics differences between beavers across the whole of Eurasia, even between the Eastern and Western ESUs (Evolutionarily Significant Units).
Duncan Halley, the most up to date authority on the subject says in his paper in Mammal Review (Vol.41: 2011)
“Each (of the three populations of western beavers) is genetically depauperate, apparently as a result of genetic drift at low population levels.”
He therefore proposes three options – the first two are ways to follow the IUCN guidelines closely – but a third is to “make an informed exception to the IUCN guidelines and reintroduce animals of mixed eastern and western … provenance.”
We therefore believe that the Tay beavers are of a genetic type suitable for Scotland.
Sourcing Eurasian beaver Castor fiber stock for reintroductions in Great Britain and Western Europe.
We are confident that the Tayside beavers are European beavers but if the government is concerned about this SWBG would be happy to collect hair samples for genetic testing.
Concerns have been raised about the impact of trapping on the beavers. So far, the one beaver that has been trapped has been separated from her family, a traumatic experience for a young animal that has not yet reached the age at which it would normally be dispersing. Another concern has been raised that trapping may disturb otters, a European Protected Species, which use beaver burrows in the Ericht and Isla.
There is a moral issue concerning the trapping of an animal that has managed to return to its old territories after our ancestors drove to extinction, not because it was a nuisance – but because it was too useful. (Beavers were hunted out for their pelts were very valuable as they made the best felt hats and castoreum from the castor sacs, which produce an aspirin like substance.)
Benefits of beavers
Beavers greatly benefit biodiversity, including salmon. They create and manage wetlands by building dams. They also put coarse woody debris into the water, which creates excellent habitat for invertebrates and salmon parr.
Economic benefits of beavers,
Purification of water
Mitigation of both flood and drought.
Beavers have a positive effect on riparian woodland. Most of the trees they cut coppice or sucker, refreshing the growth so that it absorbs more C02. Wetlands also absorb C02 faster than grasslands. They therefore help to prevent and mitigate climate change.
See: “The Economic Value of Beaver Ecosystem Services in the Escalante River System, Utah.” 2011.
Tay beavers provide unique study opportunity of beavers in a salmon river/agricultural area in Scotland.
Beavers can be a great tourist attraction. The beavers at Bamff are already an attraction on the Cateran trail. A significant number of the supporters of the Save the Free Beavers movement are in the tourist trade.
http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/news/legal-challenge-to-beaver-trapping/003493/Scotland is seen as a wildlife destination, so acquiring a reputation for removing native animals from the wild and putting them in zoos is not helping this image.
Safety of Beavers
Persistent rumours of beavers being shot by landowners are a worry. The members of the Group (Scottish Wild Beaver Group) are all too aware that until the beavers have legal protection recognized by the Scottish government, landowners may feel free to dispatch them as they like.
Who is against the beavers?
The trapping appears to be actively supported by some members of Scottish Rural Property and Business Association, the National Farmers’ Union for Scotland and the Tweed Foundation. These bodies believe that beavers will have a damaging impact on salmon in Scotland, and will damage farmers’ interests and have implications for forestry. It should be noted, however, that the Forestry Commission, Scotland, supports the official beaver trial in Knapdale. Many farmers, landowners and fishermen are open minded or supportive.
Others are hostile about reintroduction and question whether the beaver is still a native after being absent for two hundred years out of the eleven thousand of its presence in the UK. It may be that these bodies would also welcome a negative outcome for the Knapdale Trial.
Beavers and Salmon
The Tweed Foundation has been informing the SRPBA of its fisheries scientist’s views on beavers, ie that they would have a detrimental affect on salmon in Scotland by blocking access to spawning grounds by the building of dams.
Professor John E.Thorpe, (formerly of Glasgow University), a world-renowned authority on the biology of salmon, disagrees with this view and along with most fisheries and beaver biologists across the world believes that beavers would benefit salmon. In parts of USA beavers are used to help restore salmon to rivers damaged by logging.
Who Are SWBG?
The Scottish Wild Beaver Group is a new group in the process of forming itself into a company limited by guarantee with charitable status.
Its objectives are:
To educate communities, farmers and landowners about the advantages of beavers and wetlands, and help to manage any problems that may arise.
To liase with government, NGOs, landowners and volunteer groups to promote the improvement of riparian woodland in Scotland.
To study and promote soft engineering solutions for watershed management within Scottish river systems.
This will all be done in consultation with international experts in the field.
Its members include beaver specialist Paul Ramsay and a number of biologists and ecologists along with wildlife lovers and tourism operators in the Perthshire area.
There is considerable and growing expertise within this group.
SWBG members are in touch with beaver specialists all over Europe and North America and are therefore able to call upon a huge bank of international expertise.
The SWBG welcomes and supports the Knapdale reintroduction.
What does SWBG see as the solution?
SWBG believes that the Scottish Government should recognize that beavers are now established in the wild in their natural range in Scotland and give them the protection of European law.
SWBG believes that the Tayside beavers should be lightly monitored, and their impact on the environment should be studied, but is not in favour of putting tracking devices on these wild animals.
SWBG believes that most conflicts between beaver and human can be managed using techniques developed in other countries all over the world where beavers and people coexist happily, sometimes in areas of intensive agriculture and habitation.
We understand that European law has provisions for member governments to issue licenses for the relocation and control of animals where mitigation does not work. We believe that this will make it possible to manage any problematic impacts caused by the Tayside or Knapdale beavers as they spread throughout Scotland.
SWBG is in the process of training members to help with this work.
1021 on Facebook “Save the Free Beavers of the Tay”. (6/3/11)
22 at last meeting in Blairgowrie 9/2/11
274 on petitions (some overlap with Facebook) (6/3/11)
Supporting Newspaper: Blairgowrie Advertiser
Coverage on BBC, STV, Articles in The Guardian, The Independent, Sunday Herald, Perthshire Advertiser, Strathearn Herald etc etc and dozens of blogs. 10 pages of references to “Tay Beavers” on google.
Some well known people supporting our campaign:
Sir John Lister Kaye, Nature Writer, Environmental Educator and former Regional Chairman of SNH
Professor Christopher Smout, CBE, FBA, FRSE, Environmental Historian, Historiographer Royal for Scotland, Emeritus professor in History at the University of St.Andrews
Roy Dennis, Naturalist responsible for several reintroductions of species to Scotland.
Derek Gow, Naturalist, zoo-keeper, who quarantined Knapdale and Perthshire beavers.
Prof. Aubrey Manning, FRSE, Emeritus professor of Natural History at Edinburgh University
Dr. Philip Ashmole, Founder of Wildwood, Carrifran Forest.
Prof. Bryony Coles, FBA, Emeritus professor of Archaeology at Exeter University, Author of “Beavers in Britain’s Past” (Oxbow Press, 2007).
Dr Göran Hartman, Lecturer in the Ecology Department at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and leading expert on beaver.
Laurie Campbell, Wildlife Photographer
Eoin Cox, Leading Craftsman, formerly of Woodschool.
Andy Wightman: Land reform campaigner.
Robin Harper MSP.
Louise Batchelor, Environmental Journalist.
Dougie MacLean Scottish Folk singer/songwriter,
And many beaver experts in UK, Europe, USA, Canada.
National Poll 1998 – 63% in favour of beaver reintroduction Scott Porter Research & Marketing Ltd 1998 Re-introduction of. European Beaver to Scotland: results of a public consultation. SNH
Comment on Line Poll: (133 votes) 93% against trapping.