Scottish Beavers

It’s 5 am.

We sit huddled under a tree in the cold and drizzle; scanning the wetland in front of us.

Out of the corner of my eye I catch sight of a large beaver gliding down the stream away from us and silently point it out to Cain and Heather.

Now’s our chance, Cain beckons me and we start to move quickly and quietly towards the edge of the bank but before we get into position a large shape haul’s itself over a sturdy dam and slips back into the water making a bee line towards us.

We sink to our knees, camera’s ready as the large rodent swims past unfazed. It lifts its nose out of the water to inhale our scent as we fire off as many shots as we dare, wary of causing even more disturbance than we already have.

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We’ve been taking advantage of the remainder of the long summer days recently, capturing some interesting footage of these crepuscular critters for a short video being produced by Heather and Cain from Wild Intrigue for The Scottish Wild Beaver Group . A charity that seeks to engage people with their local Beavers, encouraging people to live alongside these revolutionary rodents and enjoy them.

Throughout our time filming we’ve had some incredible encounters.

We’ve seen a feisty yearling clamber over branches and gnaw at dead trees, felled a long time ago, on a river where the family have burrowed into the bank rather than build a lodge.

We’ve had a kit swim inquisitively close by under the watchful gaze of its mum as the sun set.

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And even seen an adult drag a newly felled branch along the river before diving underwater and dragging the branch with it as soon as it realised it was being watched.

I’m sure that these encounters could fill anyone with admiration for these animal engineers and I hope that as more people experience beavers they will be struck by the wonder we feel for this species. They are like no other.

Since we first wrote about this keystone species the Scottish Government announced that the Eurasian Beaver was to be recognised as a native Scottish species. Inevitably the first formal reintroduction of a native mammal in the UK has not been well received by all.

Some see them as pests, unwantingly felling native woodland and flooding farmland. Others see them as engineers, single handedly restoring the natural wonder to areas of Scotland long bereft of it.

Overall, beavers have had a positive impact since their reintroduction. A recent study of a group of 4 beavers in Scotland over a twelve year period conducted by Stirling University found that beavers dramatically increased plant species and diversity and highlighted that beavers can have a very important role to play in land restoration right when it is most needed.

There have been areas where conflict has arisen though. In these instances the people affected by beavers have often not utilised the mitigation options available due to a lack of information being provided and have occasionally turned to the most lethal form of resolution. Lethal control of beavers is still carried out in Scotland unlicensed and unregulated.

These instances have not occurred often and have only occurred in a few locations. But they have turned the discussion surrounding beaver re-introduction into a slanging match, particularly in the local newspapers, with both sides unprepared to listen to the others arguments or concerns.

Amid all this Beavers have continued to prosper, especially our local families which we have enjoyed every minute of watching.

Especially one recent encounter..

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Arriving at sunrise on a clear morning all was quiet in an area that is typically a busy waterway for the family.

With no sign of any beavers we walked gently down the edge of the wetland, as we did we noticed a rustle of vegetation on the opposite bank and could make out a coat of wet fur fumbling around before disappearing into the undergrowth.

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Hoping for another sighting we crept further down the bank to find it was the Adult female in a clearing, created by the family as a way around the dam.

Initially unfazed by our presence she sat grooming opposite us.

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She also had a little nibble on the log next to her that the family had fell years ago when they initially set up their territory here.

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Quickly becoming aware of our presence she slowly waddled down the beaver built slipway towards the water but stopped on the way to have a further scratch.

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Plopping back in the water she could go one of two ways, either further down stream or up the dam back towards her lodge. Being close to her bed time we moved back up the bank just in time to see a face appear atop her own construction.

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She gradually lowered herself into the water and then under it moving towards her lodge and probably her bed to sleep for the day and dream about the next night’s activities as a beavers work is never done.

Beavers are set to stay in Scotland but getting to this point has been a long, arduous journey of how not to reintroduce a species. No one group is particularly at fault for the way this has played out but severe lessons need to be learned for future re-introductions, particularly carnivores such as the Eurasian Lynx, if we are to do it successfully.

Thanks for reading.

Elliot & Kirsten

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