A year ago, on 29 May 2009, Scotland’s first wild beavers for over 400 years were released into Knapdale Forest, Mid-Argyll. This marked the start of the Scottish Beaver Trial, a five-year time-limited trial reintroduction and a partnership project between the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and host Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS).
This week marks the first year milestone for the project, which aims to follow the beavers’ activities in the wild and gather information on how the presence of beavers might affect the Scottish environment and determine if the beaver might prosper again as a native species returned to Scotland’s countryside.
Reflecting on the events of the first year, Simon Jones, Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Project Manager for the Trial, said: “After spending their first full year in Scotland, we’ve seen many positive signs to indicate that our new beaver neighbours are already behaving very naturally.
“We released three beaver families last May and it’s especially thrilling to see most of them now thriving. Behaving exactly as beavers should, two families have now built their own lodges. One family has also built a dam which has created a large beaver pond and allows them to access habitat rich in food supplies. Signs of their nightly trips to forage through the undergrowth near the water’s edge, such as coppiced trees and stripped bark, can be clearly seen close to the beavers’ release lochs.
“Over 25 other European countries have already reintroduced beavers and, from their experience, we know that some animals can disperse after release and fail to settle. Unfortunately this has been the case with one of our beaver families; however it is very positive that the majority of our original beavers have settled in well.
“The license granted by the Scottish Government allows us to release up to four beaver families to create a viable breeding population and the most natural conditions possible to inform our Trial. Having already released three families, we released a fourth pair of beavers earlier this month. Early signs indicate that this pair is settling in well.”
Allan Bantick, Chair of the Scottish Beaver Trial, said: “By building lodges and dams, foraging in the undergrowth and coppicing trees near the water’s edge; these beavers are fulfilling their role as a keystone species within Scotland’s wetland habitats. They are an essential element of our native biodiversity which has been missing for too long.
“I am encouraged by the signs of success we can already see emerging from the Trial. As coppiced trees regenerate their new shoots, gaps in an otherwise dense canopy allow extra light to penetrate the forest floor and benefit other wild plants; Knapdale is becoming an even more diverse environment for wildlife. Butterflies, dragonflies, insects, frogs, toads and ducks are already colonizing the new beaver pond, which is a delight for many visitors to see.”
Roisin Campbell Palmer, RZSS’s Beaver Project Leader, said: “The impact that these beavers are having on the landscape is entirely natural and part of their role as ecosystem engineers. Beavers are nature’s woodland managers and we are really seeing what they can do in terms of changing the landscape and creating more wetland areas.
“Last year, our project made conservation history marking the first-ever formal reintroduction of a native mammal into the wild in the UK and the Trial has created a huge amount of public interest. It is a real example of pioneering conservation project that could have lasting impact on Scotland wildlife and landscapes.
“We look forward to seeing what Scottish Natural Heritage, which is co-ordinating the Trial’s independent scientific monitoring, will report in their findings to the Scottish Government in 2014. The results of the trial, along with other sources of information, will help Scottish Ministers decide whether Scotland’s future includes wild beavers.”
The Barnluasgan Information Centre is a great starting point for a visit to the trial area. Visitors can find out more about the trial here and take a fifteen minute walk to spot signs of beavers’ presence and activity. Walkhighlands also features a longer walk at Barnluasgan which offers the chance to spot the beavers in their new habitat.