Beaver numbers increase across Tayside

Hannah Downey

Beavers were hunted to extinction in Scotland about 400 years ago. In 2009, an official trial reintroduction of beavers, the Scottish Beaver Trial (SBT), took place in mid-Argyll. Since 2006, beavers have also been reported in Tayside as a result of unauthorised releases. The Scottish Government announced in November 2016 that it was minded to retain the Eurasian beaver in Scotland, and for them to be allowed to recolonise naturally.

A new survey conducted by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) estimates that around 430 beavers live in over 100 active beaver territories. A 2012 survey estimated beaver numbers across the region at about 150 beavers in 40 territories.

Nick Halfhide, SNH’s Director of Sustainable Growth, said, “By building dams, beavers improve local water quality and help nurture other wildlife, and it’s wonderful that people now have a chance to see these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat.

“But in some parts of Scotland, beavers can cause problems, particularly in areas with prime agricultural land. So we are setting up a mitigation scheme – with input from a range of interest groups such as NFU Scotland through the Scottish Beaver Forum – to develop and trial techniques to help  farmers deal with any problems they encounter.”

SNH provide farmers with free, expert advice, as well as practical, on-the-ground solutions. These include techniques used across Europe, such as deterrent fencing, tree guards, piped dams, culvert and flood bank protection, as well as trialling new methods.

The survey detected 72 beaver lodges, 339 burrows, and 86 dams or recently removed dams. Beavers create lodges by burrowing into banks where they dig several chambers and entrances.

Beavers  range from as far north as Dunalastair Water, extend out to the River Dochart and River Lyon in the west, over to Forfar Loch in the east, and down to Loch Earn in the south. Beavers are also spreading beyond Tayside. There are a small number of beaver territories within the Forth catchment from Loch Achray in the Trossachs, parts of River Teith and Devon, to the main stem of Forth River near Stirling.

The Tayside survey was commissioned by SNH and carried out by the University of Exeter.

Professor Richard Brazier from the University of Exeter, said, “This survey provides a comprehensive understanding of the current extent of beaver activity across Tayside and neighbouring catchments and expansion in beaver territories since 2012. Our survey data and subsequent analysis provides a wealth of information into how free-living beaver populations expand across, and utilise resources within Scottish catchments. This information has wide ranging value for informing policy and management strategies surrounding beaver reintroduction across Scotland and beyond, maximising our ability to manage the conflicts and maximise the benefits associated with beavers.”

The fieldwork for the survey involved walking riverbanks to look for, record and map field signs. Over 1,000 km of continuous banks were surveyed, plus another 310 km assessed using more rapid spot-checks.  The survey took 180 person-days to complete across all the catchments, and almost 29,000 field signs were recorded. SNH anticipates a similar survey in future years, but in the meantime, asks members of the public to help monitor the beaver population by recording their sightings using the free Mammal Tracker app, available free from ITunes App Store and Android Play Store (more information is available at ).

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