The Tayside beavers - living wild and free in Scotland

Read the follow-up article:

Tay beavers to stay free and living wild, May 2012

ADDENDUM - Dec 2012

River Dove weir removal, re-wilding techniques using large wood and trees

The increasingly complicit nature of the third sector in behind the scenes negotiation with Government on the disposal of the publicly owned National Nature Reserves (NNR) in England shows how little involvement is given to ordinary people in decision making about nature conservation (1).You have to ask yourself why it is that Natural England hasn't made a better (or any) case to Government for retention of the publicly owned NNRs? But then Natural England doesn't act as though we have a national system of publicly-owned protected areas worth safeguarding for the public (except for a few exceptions amongst local staff). It was different ten years ago, when a Policy statement on NNR from predecessor body English Nature gave this primary reason (2):
“What should English Nature directly hold and manage?
English Nature staff need thorough practical knowledge of how species populations and habitats of greatest conservation importance can be maintained, enhanced and restored………Therefore, we need to manage directly a suite of NNRs which provides credible practical experience to underpin our advice and recommendations to others, and must ensure that this knowledge and experience is used by those staff involved in advising
other land managers”

As well as providing practical land management experience, the Policy statement noted that the NNRs managed by English Nature were a vital resource for research and monitoring into the effects of land management on the distribution of wildlife, and were used for ecological research by universities and other research institutions. Moreover, the NNR were regarded as key places for public access, to raise understanding and appreciation of England’s wildlife heritage. You will search in vain now to find any contemporary reference on policy for NNR on the Natural England website, the NNR Promise document on service standards is missing, and the long used maxim for NNR of where “nature comes first” wiped from view and memory, but the maxim is still used in relation to Scottish NNR – see (3).

So much for a supine Natural England, what about the behaviour of the third sector? The wildlife trusts, RSPB, National Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife, Woodland Trust etc., have apparently raised the stakes in what Government thought would have been an easy option in offloading responsibility for the 70 or so publicly owned NNR in England. Under the cover of developing a set of 'Public Land Principles' (4) this third sector grouping, not content with all the Higher Level Stewardship funding that they will seek to pocket on these NNR (and see Walking the wild places (5)) also want a big cash injection as a condition of any transfer. If that funding is eventually forthcoming, do we have any foresight as to how the individual organisations of this third sector will approach these NNR, bearing in mind that the Policy statement had this to say about the relative importance of the publicly owned NNR (my italics) (2):
“NNRs are a public recognition, on behalf of Government, of a site’s importance for nature conservation, with the primary management aim being to maintain and, if appropriate, enhance that nature conservation interest. More has, therefore, been expected for wildlife gain from an NNR than from other important wildlife sites, where nature conservation has to be achieved alongside the objectives of other land users”

Dove Dale National Nature Reserve

I walked Dove Dale in Derbyshire a few weeks ago. It is mostly owned by the National Trust in its South Peak Estate as a result some time ago of the efforts of Frederick Holmes from Buxton. Holmes was a regular walker of Dove Dale. One day in 1916, he heard landowners felling a large number of trees in Hall Dale, a side valley of Dove Dale. Concerned the area was about to be destroyed forever, he started a campaign to protect it for future generations, and by 1924 was arguing for all of Dove Dale to become Britain’s first national park. A 1931 government inquiry recommended the creation of a ‘National Park Authority’ to select areas for designation as national parks, and Dove Dale was one of the areas proposed. However no action was taken, and so in 1934, and with the financial help of Manchester businessman Robert McDougal, he managed to secure the sale of the first parts of Dove Dale, Hurts Wood and Hall Dale, to the National Trust. Successive properties in the valley were added between then and 1938, and Wolfscote Dale was bought in 1948.

The Dove Dale valley is a limestone gorge of massive rock pinnacles and precipitous valley sides, which has ancient ash woodland dotted with yew on its western side, and with a mix of scattered ash, hazel and hawthorn, calcareous grasslands and a range of screes and rock outcrops on the eastern side. The River Dove flows down through the valley, its meandering pattern controlled by resistant reefs within the limestone, which are so hard that the river has cut around rather than through them.

Dove Dale was notified as a SSSI in 1954, but it became an NNR only very recently in 2006, the NNR also including Mill, Wolfscote and Biggin Dales. The single path through Dove Dale is highly popular, but running along the sparsely wooded eastern edge, it has none of the wild woodland feel that is readily apparent on the western side, and in places is littered with sawn logs and brash from unsympathetic tree work by the National Trust (and see Walking the wild places (5)). Sheep grazing in previous centuries kept this west-facing slope a scattered wood pasture punctuated with loose screes that the National Trust are attempting in places to stabilise by seeding in native trees. Paradoxically, as well as re-introducing sheep grazing after a reduction over the past 100 years, and which during that period allowed more trees to grow but which now gives rise to the erosion on these screes, you can see that the National Trust also cut back trees on the screes where they obstruct the view of the rock features along the Dale, such as at Tissington Spires.

It is to be hoped that they don’t also do this in the ancient woodland of Dovedale Wood on the western side of the valley since its steepness that is dotted through with towering ivy-clad limestone pinnacles, has probably kept it safe from sheep and perhaps much else in the way of intervention. It is by far the most interesting aspect of the Dale, and it is recorded to have a shrub layer with dogwood, guelder rose, buckthorn, bird cherry, rock whitebeam, mountain currant and occasional plants of mezereon (Daphne mezereum) (6).This woodland unfortunately has no public access, being closed by the National Trust as a conservation area. However, the overall impression given in the valley is of estate management rather than conservation, a case of where nature conservation has to be achieved alongside the objectives of other land users (see earlier), as is especially shown with the river.

The River Dove is a trout stream made famous by Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton in their book The Compleat Angler, published in 1653. It is obvious that the river has long been tamed for anglers by the construction of a series of weirs along its length. Anglers today get privileged access to the conservation area of the western bank of the river in Dove Dale as the fishing rights are owned by a local hotel (7) while on the eastern side a fishing club rent the waters from the National Trust (8). It can be seen that riverside vegetation is managed for the convenience of fishing. I also noticed something that I have not seen before – bankside trees have been felled into the river and tethered in place by metal cables fixed into the residual stump (see Addendum below). The Chalkstream Habitat Manual of the Wild Trout Trust provides me with the explanation for the presence of these felled trees in the river. They are there as Large Woody Debris (LWD) a vital natural component of all chalkstreams that “due to human intervention over the millennia, it is now largely absent from many river systems” (9). LWD causes localised changes in water velocity that bring about downstream scouring of the gravel riverbed, improving it for spawning, and slowing upstream flow so that greater sedimentation and thus vegetation growth occurs. The manual goes on to say that:
“Accumulations of LWD can cause the formation of so-called 'woody debris dams'. These can become remarkably stable, with some examples lasting for years. These can have particular value in riverine systems, becoming important structural features in their own right”

A couple of years ago, I saw a fabulous example of a woody debris dam in the publicly owned Bighorn National Forest of northern Wyoming as I travelled across the Big Horn Mountains on the way to Yellowstone National Park. This dam was of course created by beaver, and not through estate management. Evidence of the beaver’s forestry work was unmistakable in the bankside fellings of aspen in what is one of the oldest government-protected forest lands in America, created as a US Forest Reserve in 1897. I hope the irony of this matching with Dove Dale is not lost, since all our beaver in Britain had gone by the date of setting up of that Forest Reserve in America, their use for fur, food and oil coupled with large scale wetland drainage from the medieval period onwards, leading to less and less physical evidence of their presence. It is possible that beavers may have survived out of sight in places with natural pools where there was no need for them to build dams, but the greater persecution from the advent of efficient steel traps and accurate firearms in the 17th century put further pressure on them, and they have probably been extinct for at least 200 years (10, 11).

That beaver probably existed in Dove Dale before their extinction is suggested by the find in 1978 of a beaver bone in Dog Hole Fissure in the limestone gorge of Creswell Crags elsewhere in Derbyshire (12). Although not directly dated, this beaver is likely to have lived in the Mesolithic judging from the total fauna excavated at Dog Hole Fissure. In addition, to the north, the River Dove runs down through Beresford Dale, thence through Wolfscote and Mill Dales, before reaching Dove Dale. Beresford in old records appears as "Beversford" or more correctly “Beveresforde” and this seems to correspond with the Old English word "beofer", which was the name for the beaver. The Manor of Beresford is in the parish of Alstonefield in North Staffordshire. A History of the Manor from 1844, written by the Rev. William Beresford, has this about the derivation of the name (13):
“We may at all events safely conclude, then, both that the name is derived from a ford, and that this ford in the sunny end of Beresford Dale was once remarkable for a colony of beavers whose carefully built dam formed an early footway over the stream and made a pool in the Dove deep enough for the beavers to defy the wolves which have left their names on the neighbouring Wolfscote hall and hill”

There are otter (and mink) on the River Dove today (14) and a recent mapping exercise identifying suitable beaver habitat in England (a minimum of between 2 and 3km of wooded river, a slope of less than 6% and flowing through areas of lower agricultural activity) found a concentration of potential sites in the Peak District, the scale of the map allowing the possibility that some may be in the vicinity of the Dove (15). Is it likely, though, that the National Trust would ever consider reintroducing beaver to Dove Dale if it was suitable? Would any third sector organization consider beaver reintroduction on the NNR they owned?

Beaver and the Scottish landscape

Over two years ago, I commented on a newspaper article that said that the RSPB-owned Insh Marsh National Nature Reserve in the Cairngorms National Park had been identified by the Scottish Wildlife Trust as the favoured location for a second site in Scotland to reintroduce the beaver (Beavers to be reintroduced to Scotland (16)). Permission had already been given by the Scottish Executive for the first location, a forested site in Knapdale, but there was nothing in the article to suggest that the RSPB was enthusiastic about the idea. Instead, there was the usual veto from farmer Jamie Williamson, who farms next to the reserve:
"These animals disappeared for a reason, because they were competing with our own needs. We will have to be very careful about putting in something which could impede or effectively destroy our ability to make a living from the land"

I asked then whether the RSPB should carry on with their usual policy of rapprochement with farming interests, as does every other nature conservation organization in the voluntary sector? Shouldn’t they instead have been seeking to contribute to the will of the Scottish people for re-introduction of beaver, as exemplified by the decision to reintroduce beaver at Knapdale? After all, the RSPB reserve has the protected status of an NNR. Thus their so-called beneficial ownership of an NNR means nothing if it does not aspire to deliver in the way that publicly owned NNR in England were supposed to do, such that more is expected for wildlife gain from an NNR than from other wildlife sites (see earlier).

Since documenting the turning down of the second application for beaver reintroduction in 2005 (Beavers and boars: a wild animal update (17)) I have not covered the subsequent re-introduction of beaver on a trial basis at Knapdale in 2009, which followed the successful re-application to the Scottish Executive the year before. Perhaps it is just as well as the reintroduction project has come in for criticism, and not just from those that did not wish to see the beaver reintroduced (18). The impression is given of an outdoor zoo based on the amount of supervision and the level of handling these beaver receive from the Project Team, a mix of people from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) (19). One commenter to the project blog called for the Project team to take the focus off of themselves (20):
“Nice to see how it’s going, yet you still don't tell us how the Beavers are doing and what they are up to. It’s all about you. It’s a Blog about the Beaver Trial. So let’s have more about the animals, not the people working with the animals please”

With all the attention focused on the Knapdale re-introductions, it escaped my notice that a much larger scale re-introduction of beaver has been going on elsewhere in Scotland for a much longer time, and without costly supervision. Nearly four years ago, a family of beavers had set up home on an island in a fishery loch at Sandyknowes Fishery, near Bridge of Earn in Perthshire, and had been living there for three months (21). It was reported that the Scottish Executive, in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) the RZSS and Tayside Police had “organised the removal of the pair of beavers, pending permission from the land owner”. However, before these “illegal” beaver could be trapped, they had “outwitted their human pursuers, after experts said they appeared to have deserted their lodge and gone on the run”. One of those free-living beaver at the fishery was less lucky when a male beaver was trapped a month later by staff from Edinburgh Zoo, and housed at the RZSS-run Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie (22).

Further evidence of beaver came to light a year later when in 2008, gnawed trees were discovered near Forfar in Angus, near Aberfeldy in Perthshire, and also in Fife (23). The BBC news report explained that the exact locations of the animals were not being given because there were attempts under way to catch the beaver. In a hostage to fortune, Martin Gaywood, from SNH, told BBC Scotland that “the beavers would find it tough to survive”. How wrong he would be is shown by the fact that two years later, residents of Invergowrie, near Dundee, were stunned to see a beaver paddling in a burn running through a new housing development (24). The animal delighted local children walking to the nearby primary school with its graceful dives and splashes of its paddle-like tail.

While there are captive populations of beaver in Scotland (25, 26, 27) the origins of the beaver in Tayside is unknown. Their distribution is quite widespread, as is shown above and by a newspaper report about Keith Ringland, a wildlife photographer from Perth, who had spent 10 months following beavers after hearing claims they had been seen in the Tayside area (28). Ringland found considerable evidence of beaver populations, with sightings and signs from as far and wide as Glamis and Forfar, down to the Earn valley and into north Perthshire, and which suggested that they had probably been living in Tayside for a minimum of three to five years:
“From what I have seen in my field trips around Tayside, I would estimate the population of beavers within the Tayside region could be 50 to 100 animals. All the signs point to the population breeding and thriving, whilst barely attracting any attention to their presence”

This estimate is often played down by SNH in the news reports of sightings – it believes there are only seven to 20 beavers in the wild, but lets go through the local knowledge from over the years since 2006: there has been evidence of a family of beaver living along Baikie Burn, a tributary of the River Isla; there may have been one at Haughs of Cossans upstream on Dean Water from Glamis; as well as a family on Kirbet Water at Kinnettles, a burn that runs off Dean Water in the Haughs of Cossans. A lodge was also found on Dean Water near Cardean in 2009, and video evidence from filming in July of that year shows that at least one breeding pair have produced a kit (29). This evidence is enough for Duncan Halley to write in a paper just published in the journal Mammal Review (30):
The number of known sites at which activity has persisted over two or more years, strongly suggesting an established pair, is c. 7 (unpublished data); the true figure may be greater as no systematic survey has been performed. Data from European reintroductions (Halley & Rosell 2002) indicates that in the absence of strong intervention, a population of this size normally survives and increases to the biological limits of the habitat, which would be several hundred individuals on the Tay”

Tayside beaver in the wild

Thus to all intents and purposes, beaver are living free and reproducing in the wild in Tayside. This is an important point to note as there is now a controversial scheme to trap and capture these beaver. Towards the end of November last year, SNH put out a Press release to that effect, claiming that the decision follows agreement between members of the National Species Reintroduction Forum (31). The Forum, which has a membership from land use, conservation and science sectors, had met in August last year, and discussed a paper from Martin Gaywood, SNH (see earlier) on Captive Beaver Collections and Escaped Animals (32). Roy Dennis, a member of the Forum present at that meeting, and who had expressed his view then that “some of the thinking was not sensible” responded to SNH by countering the assertions in the Press release and the Discussion Paper that the beaver in Tayside were an alien species, that there was an issue of animal welfare, that genetic donor stock for beaver reintroduction in the UK could only come from Norway, and that it was just a scare tactic to suggest that American beaver may be present. But the most damning comment was that as I argued at the second meeting, this forum is not representative of the Scottish public, and should not (and does not) have powers to decide” (33).

RSPB Scotland was represented at the Forum meeting, but the RSPB have since contradicted the claim of agreement between members by saying that it is "a discussion/information sharing forum and explicitly not a decision-making body. Having read the relevant SNH press release, I can understand why you thought otherwise: we have contacted SNH about this document giving the impression that the Forum made recapture decisions, and they have agreed retrospectively to alter the text accordingly. The decision whether or not to recapture released beavers rested solely with SNH: they hold the relevant information and are, therefore, best placed to give details of the rationale" (34)

Scottish Wildlife Trust, also represented at the Forum meeting, seem as well to have distanced themselves from the decision by saying that "Things have moved on from the initial discussions at the Reintroductions Forum" (35). The agreed line from their Council is that "SWT recognises that given the presence of beavers living free in parts of the Scottish countryside, it is the responsibility of the Scottish Government to decide what, if anything, is to be done about this"

The news media quickly picked up on the level of objection to the scheme. The Guardian reported that it was an “unpublicised project” that SNH regarded as urgent because beaver were spreading so rapidly (36). In an echo of the discussion paper, the SNH spokesperson said:
"They are being recaptured because their presence in the wild is illegal and because their welfare may be at risk. There was no consultation with local people; there was no licence issued for their release; there is no monitoring of their welfare; and there is no certainty that they are the appropriate species or type of beaver for Scotland"

However, John Lister-Kaye, a former president of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and who keeps beavers at his Aigas wildlife sanctuary near Inverness, thought the trapping was driven by professional jealousy, and that “the animals were once native to the UK and should be given protection under European conservation directives if they were breeding successfully” (36).

Animal trader Derek Gow, who quarantined the animals released in the Knapdale trial, considered that the plan was "ill considered and profoundly wrong” and doubted whether there was the capacity to rehouse the beaver (37). SNH said that "leaving these animals in the wild would mean choosing to ignore well-established wildlife legislation. This is not something that SNH, or any other government organisation, can do" adding that the animals needed to be recaptured because the "Scottish government may decide to abandon the reintroduction of beavers after the Knapdale trial". SNH stated they were confident of providing permanent accommodation for the recaptured beaver, as their estimate of numbers was between seven and 20 (see above and (38)). However, those lobbying against the recapture believed 50 to be a more realistic number. Louise Ramsay, a prominent figure in the Tay beaver lobby believed the Species Introduction Forum were “washing their hands” of any responsibility with regards to the future of the unofficial herbivores.

Campaigners against the trapping were quick to set up a Facebook Group (39) and an online petition (40) but the first animal was reported trapped on the River Ericht near Blairgowrie on the 8 December, with the animal being held in captivity at Edinburgh Zoo (41). Subsequently, Liam McArthur, MSP for Orkney, lodged a number of written questions asking the Scottish Executive about the capture of beavers in Tayside (42). SNH must have been stung by the adverse publicity they were receiving, because they had tried to keep reporters away from the trapping (43) and then put out a second Press Release to deflect criticism through “a statement to clarify matters” (44). Essentially, it went over the same ground of no consultation, no licence, no monitoring of welfare, and whether they were the appropriate type of beaver for Scotland. They then threw in a scare story that the beavers may be carriers of a parasite tapeworm that is potentially harmful to human health. There had been no mention of this before in any document from SNH, except that it was slipped into an email five days before the Press release. Since most tapeworm infections are established post mortem, SNH need to be very careful that they haven’t dug themselves a hole with this scare.

The argument that the beaver free-living in Tayside are the wrong beaver is pretty much demolished by a recent paper that has looked at the three genetic populations existing in continental Europe, and found them all depauperate. The author thus argues that a mix of beaver from these three populations would be a better choice for re-introduction to Britain than the Norwegian animals used at Knapdale (30). Of the other justifications used for the trapping, very few have stood up to the scrutiny of Paul and Louise Ramsay, two of the prime movers in the campaign against the trapping (35). More importantly, like others (45) I very much question whether SNH, for all its assertions about the illegality of the Tayside beaver, is acting within the law itself by trapping these beaver when they are free-living animals that are breeding in the wild.

Free-living beaver and their strict legal protection

It was always going to be the case that beaver reintroduced into the wild would have to be given strict protection under British law, and that protected areas would have to be designated where the animals established themselves. The issue has to do with European law and protected species under the EU Habitats Directive. Thus like the wolf, lynx and bear, the beaver is an animal listed for strict protection in Annex IV of the Habitats Directive, and its listing in Annex II sets the requirement for designating protected areas (46). None of these animals are given protection in Britain at present under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (47) or under Schedule 2 of The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 that transposes the Habitats Directive into national law for England and Wales (48) whereas Scotland is still working from The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (49)  as amended in 2004 (50) and 2007 (51). However, it is a condition of the Habitats Directive that our laws are updated to reflect the requirements of Annex IV when the circumstances demand it.

According to a feasibility study commissioned by Natural England on reintroducing the European beaver to England (15) those circumstances could now be considered to exist. Thus in considering the legal position, the study concluded that if beavers are deliberately released into the wild - or escape and are not pursued - then they become wild animals and are no longer owned by anyone. It says that Britain is indisputably within the former natural range of the beaver, and thus if beavers have been reintroduced into the wild and established a viable population, then we would be obliged to protect the species by adding the beaver to Schedule 2 of the Habitats Regulations, and transposing the requirements of Article 12 of the Habitats Directive into national legislation. Article 12 prohibits all forms of deliberate capture or killing of specimens of these species in the wild; or deliberate disturbance of these species, particularly during the period of breeding, rearing, hibernation and migration; and deterioration or destruction of breeding sites or resting places (46). One more important conclusion was that if there was a self-sustaining population in the wild in Britain, then subsequent releases do not require a licence.

SNH however have acted as though there is no protection as a result of EU legislation for the beaver living free in Tayside, and indeed the discussion paper presented to the National Species Reintroduction Forum makes the following assumption on the basis that beaver are not currently included in Schedule 2 of the Habitats Regulations (32):
“Our understanding is that beavers on Tayside and near Inverness are therefore not protected under this legislation”

In addition, the notes of that Forum meeting said (32):
“The SG confirmed that the beavers are not currently protected. Individual land owners are therefore entitled to remove animals if they wish”

The later is surprising since it is an about turn from the position of the Scottish Government in 2005 when they refused an application for reintroduction of beaver. A major sticking point then was the exit strategy proposed by SNH, of the potential killing of any beavers “causing more damage than might initially have been considered”, or found outside of the trial site (52). It stated that beaver introduced to Scotland would be protected under European law, which thus raised doubts about the legality and practicality of the exit strategy. The Executive's decision letter on the application set out in greater detail the reasons for rejecting the application, and confirmed their conclusion on the implications of the Habitats Directive (53):
“Consideration of Article 12 of the Habitats Directive
The release of the European beaver in Scotland would grant the species full legal protection under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Habitats Directive”

I have seen photographic evidence that landowners have been using bait to lure beavers in Tayside so that they can be trapped – carrots have been spread on the ground near traps, apples speared on sticks so that they can be secured under water, and a trail camera that had presumably been set up to film the capture of a beaver, or possibly also to film anyone interfering with the trap. This use of bait predates the Forum meeting last August when the decision on trapping was made (see earlier) and was admitted by Professor Colin Galbraith, of SNH, in a newspaper report from 2007 (21) as it was in the second press release from SNH in late December where its says that “Bait testing indicates that trapping them is feasible”. It would thus appear that there has been collusion between landowners and SNH in activities that would be in contravention of Article 12 (see above).

There should be a legal challenge to this trapping of beaver in Tayside. It is only because we are an island that we have this uncertainty about whether the Habitats Directive applies. In continental Europe, beaver could restore itself just by crossing a national boundary under its own volition. A recent paper from the Journal of Environmental Law by Arie Trouwborst confirms this, although he was primarily looking at the large carnivores and the Habitats Directive (54):
Another question concerns the legal status of wolves turning up in these states. Although this is a question which will be hotly debated, it has a straightforward answer. No exemptions regarding Annex IV of the Habitats Directive apply in respect of these states. Hence, the strict protection of Article 12 must be deemed to apply to each wolf entering any of these states of its own accord. According to the Commission, when a species ‘spreads on its own to a new area’, the latter ‘has to be considered part of the natural range’. Whether the species formerly occurred in the area is apparently not regarded as a prerequisite"

Trouwborst says that the UK and Ireland are also bound by this interpretation "but these are set apart by the fact that large carnivores can only return to them through active human reintroduction efforts". This argument currently surrounds the issue of eagle owls in Britain, and whether they should be trapped and culled, or instead protected under the EU Birds Directive (55). The Directive says that all wild birds occurring naturally in the territory of the European Union are protected (56). The eagle owl is listed in Annex I of the Directive and thus there is also a requirement to designate protected areas to ensure their survival and reproduction in their area of distribution (57). Partly the argument is about whether it was ever a native species, but also if it was, then would it have flown over the English Channel to restore itself? Long discussions have ensued as to whether the eagle owl is sedentary, and if it is thus dissuaded from crossing large areas of water (58). But the fact remains that there are eagle owls nesting and breeding in Britain, and there has been local agreement at one nest site that there would be no interference (59). Thus in the absence of any evidence of assisted transport, the eagle owl poses us, like the beaver, with another real problem in coming to terms with our acceptance of inconvenient wild fauna and their protection.

Since 2002, Louise and Paul Ramsay have introduced European beavers to the ponds and wetlands of two large enclosures on their Bamff Estate, near Blairgowrie, and their two families of beavers have been breeding since 2005 and 2006 (26) They were brought in as a means to pioneer regeneration ecology using a native species, and their significant impact on the Bamff landscape has been studied through research sponsored by SNH (60). It never occurred to the Ramsays that beavers would not have become an established part of wild nature by now, otherwise they may not have brought them in. Prolonged containment of beavers in enclosures interferes with the normal behaviour of their lives, which is anathema to the Ramsays. It has to be said that the trapping, tagging and culling of beavers in Knapdale, and the trapping and imprisoning or possible culling of captured Tayside beavers is also anathema.

Mark Fisher 10 January 2011, 17 January 2011

Thanks to Mick Green, ecologymatters, for discussions on beaver and the Habitats Directive, and for all the people who gave me information about the free-living Tayside beavers

River Dove weir removal, re-wilding techniques using large wood and trees

A case study has appeared on the River Restoration Centre (RRC) website that gives details of the works that I had seen on the Dove River (61). Over July and August 2010, the Leek & District Fly Fishing Association undertook work to remove one of the artificial weirs on that stretch of the River Dove, and to restore a more natural river flow. Weirs restrict sediment transportation, leading to the accumulation of sediment behind them, and impacting the flow conditions upstream. As the intention was to leave no trace of the existence of the weir, that would explain why I didn’t notice any evidence of its removal. The felling of the trees into the river, and their wiring in place, was to allow material accumulation, and to create a diversity of depths, flow patterns and river bed substrates.

The RRC visited the site a year after the work had taken place, to make an assessment of its outcome. Twenty metres upstream of where the weir had been, there was a significant drop in water level and pool and riffle sequences had established naturally as a result of increased sediment transportation, creating a range of flow conditions in-stream. New plant species had begun to establish at the start of the riparian zone. Water clarity was visibly improved both up and downstream. A year on from felling, the trees tethered in the river had created a range of structures that had increased plant establishment and created a variety of flow conditions.

4th December 2012

(1) Plans to dispose of nature reserves in chaos, Michael McCarthy, The Independent 27 December 2010

(2) National Nature Reserves - the future: A policy statement, English Nature January 2000

(3) NNR policy, Scotland’s National Nature Reserves, Scottish Natural Heritatge

(4) Speaking up together for nature, Plantlife News and Press 12 November 2010

(5) Walking the wild places, Self-willed land 28 September 2010

(6) Dove Valley and Biggin Dale SSSI, natural England

(7) Fishing, The Izaak Walton Hotel

(8) River Dove at Dovedale, Leek And District Fly Fishing Association

(9) Use of Large Woody Debris, Parts 1 & 2, The Chalkstream Habitat Manual, Wild Trout Trust

(10) Bryony Coles (2006) Beavers in Britain's Past (Wetland Archaeology Research Project Occasional Paper 19) Oxbow ISBN-13: 978-1-84217-226-1

(11) Castor fiber (Eurasian Beaver) IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

(12) Beaver leg bone, Cresswell Crags

(13) A history of the manor of Beresford, in the county of Stafford - Beresford, William, 1844, Leek: W. Eaton

(14) The aquatic ecological status of the rivers of the Upper Dove Catchment in 2009 - Natural England Commissioned Report NECR046, 17 December 2010

(15) The feasibility and acceptability of reintroducing the European beaver to England – NECR002, Commissioned by Natural England and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species 17 March 2009

(16) Beavers to be reintroduced to Scotland, Self-willed Land

(17) Beavers and boars: a wild animal update, Self-willed Land 8 September 2005

(18) The Scottish Beaver blog: The alternative blog on the reintroduction of the Beaver to Argyll, Scotland

(19) Official Home of the Scottish Beaver Trial

(20) Scottish Beaver Trial: Official blog for the Scottish Beaver Trial - a five-year trial reintroduction of beavers to Scotland.

(21) They were just beavering away - now Bridge of Earn Two are on run, Ian Johnston, Scotsman 9 March 2007

(22) 'Illegal' beaver caught in wild, BBC 13 April 2007

(23) Beavers believed to be on loose, BBC News Scotland 18 April 2008

(24) Wild beaver spotted in Tayside village, STV 14 June 2010 1

(25) The Aigas Beaver Project, Aigas Field Centre, Inverness-shire

(26) Beavers, Bamff Estate

(27) Beaver, Highland Wildlife Park, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

(28) ‘Extinct’ beavers found alive and well in Tayside, Lindsay Watling, Press and Journal 7 August 2010

(29) Beaver Kit, paulramsayofbamff

(30) Halley, D.J. (2011) Sourcing Eurasian beaver Castor fiber stock for reintroductions in Great Britain and Western Europe. Mammal Review 41: 40–53

(31) Feral beavers to be recaptured, SNH Press release 26 November 2010

(32) Discussion Paper: Captive Beaver Collections and Escaped Animals, Martin Gaywood, SNH, National Species Reintroduction Forum Meeting - 24 August 2010 PLUS Notes of Meeting

(33) Note to SNH after being sent Press Release 26 November 2010, Roy Dennis

(34) Personal communication to Tony Philips from Richard James, Wildlife Advisor, RSPB UK, on save the free beavers of tay Facebook group - no longer in existence

(35) Another Press Release from Scottish Natural Heritage, Beavers at Bamff 22 December 2010

(36) Scotland's beaver-trapping plan has wildlife campaigners up in arms, Severin Carrell, Guardian 25 November 2010

(37) Criticism over Tayside beaver trap plan BBC Tayside and Central, 30 November 2010

(38) River Ericht beavers doing well at Edinburgh Zoo, Daily Record 23 December 2010

(39) Save the free beavers of the Tay, Facebook Group

(40) Save the free beavers of the Tay, iPetitions

(41) First 'free' River Tay beaver trapped, Mike Farrell, 15 December 2010

(42) Written questions lodged on 20 December 2010, The Scottish Parliament,  Scottish Parliamentary Business 21 December 2010

(43) Beaver escape gives teeth to Scotland's debate over tampering with nature, Kevin McKenna, Observer, Sunday 28 November 2010

(44) Tayside beaver recapture, SNH Press release 20 December 2010

(45) Murky waters: Why are beavers being sent to the zoo? Peter Marren, Independent 20 December 2010

(46) COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (Habitats Directive)

(47) Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, JNCC

(48) The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010,, The National Archives

(49) The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994

(50) The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Amendment (Scotland) Regulations 2004

(51) The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Amendment (Scotland) Regulations 2007

(52) Executive rejects proposal to reintroduce beavers, Scottish Government News Release 1 September 2005

(53) Licence Application to Reintroduce European Beaver, Licensing and Registration, Scottish Government, 1 September 2005

(54) Trouwborst, A. (2010) Managing the Carnivore Comeback: International and EU Species Protection Law and the Return of Lynx,Wolf and Bear to Western Europe (2010) Journal of Environmental Law 22: 347-372

(55) Eagle owl spreads across British Isles and divides conservationists: RSPB does not want to rule out cull of predator while owl group says EU should protect species, Jamie Doward, The Observer 26 December 2010

(56) Bird species, Species protection, European Commission Environment

(57) DIRECTIVE 2009/147/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds (codified version)

(58) Eagle Owl- Swedish Findings Proves Crossing Large Bodies of Open Water no Problem, Raptor Politics 11 November 2010

(59) Eagle Owl Cull- Dismissed by Mr Richard Benyon MP, Raptor Politics 19 November 2010

(60) Jones, K., Gilvear, D., Willby, N. and Gaywood, M. (2008) Willow (Salix spp.) and aspen (Populus tremula) regrowth after felling by the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber): implications for riparian woodland conservation in Scotland. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 19: 75–87

(61) Dove Weir Removal, Dovedale. Techniques: Weir removal, Re-wilding techniques using large wood and trees. the River Restoration Centre Case Study Series August 2011