Monday, 31 August 2009

Some Fungi round the Big Pond

The wet, mild weather has encouraged a great flourishing of Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) in the beaver wetland around the ponds at Bamff.

The slightly fetid smell of the Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) pervades,

and those who keep their eyes open see delicious chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius)

and boletes (Boletus spp).

The last chanterelles we saw were too sodden with rain to pick and had been bashed about by the rain, so we moved on through the woodland. Besides these fungi the floor of some of the Norway spruce woods is carpeted with small brown fungi, while the sulphurous yellow of (could it be?) Velvet Shank (Flamulina velutipes) brightens the rotting stumps of trees

Could this be Postia caesia, a bracket fungus I found growing on the trunk of a dead Norway Spruce (Picea abies) just by the edge of the Big Pond here?

And what is this? A fungus I photographed growing on the next dead Norway spruce.

Is this Slippery Jack?

Thursday, 27 August 2009

A Breached Dam

Morgan was driving out and passed me as I parked my truck at the side of the road. He stopped and addressed me,' The beavers are very active,' he said.

'Yes', I replied, 'the evenings are drawing in and they are thinking of preparing for winter. Have you seen much work on trees?'

'Yes, and someone has breached one of the dams', said Morgan.

'Ah, I think that must just be the result of all that rain.'

'It looks as though a person has done it.' And with that he wound up his window and drove on.

Here, then, is the overflow as it was this morning:

So, the question that I had ignored in my mind was 'Did the beavers do it?

Bob Arnebeck has something to say about the subject of otters working on beaver dams in his blog at, but I must look into the question of how beavers regulate the level of water in the ponds created by their dams: something to do with water levels in the entrance canal to their burrows I should guess.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Sedge Rafts and Scent Mounds

This is a photograph, taken last summer, of a beaver swimming in the Big Pond at Bamff. Behind it is a raft of sedge (mainly). Sometimes the beavers swim under the sedge and make themselves a hole in the middle, rather as seals make breathing holes for themselves in the Arctic ice, and spend time grazing the vegetation there.

Usually people think of beavers as having an effect on the composition of woodland by turning the broadleaved trees that can tolerate coppicing into shrubs and leaving the conifers, which will shade out the broadleaves eventually.

This may be true sometimes, but when conifers cast a dense shade near the water's edge beavers may well bark the trees, or at any rate some of them and the barked trees will die eventually. This will allow light demanding trees to flourish

The other thing that is important, particularly where a coniferous woodland borders on a stream inhabited by beavers, is that the building of dams will raise the water table of the nearby ground and this may drown the root systems of the conifers. Once again willows and other species of tree that tolerate wet ground will survive.

The next photograph shows a scent mound at a feeding station. A few days ago I posted a photograph of a small heap of vegetation and wrote that I thought it was a scent mound, but that I hadn't taken the trouble to get down on my knees and smell it. Well, I did just that in this case because there was an old plastic tree tube to hand on which to kneel. I did so and was rewarded with the strong musky, sweet smell of beaver.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

A Wet August

Yellow loosestrife growing at the edge of a beaver pond. What are the scales growing on the stem?

The rainy weather has kept the beavers busy, building up the parapets of their dams.

This heap of vegetation is downstream of one of the dams. I wondered if it was a scent mound, but was disinclined to kneel down and sniff at it.

I was surprised to see that beavers have been gnawing at the bark on this fallen tree. If it had been the winter I would have expected it, but not in the lush month of August.

Here we are looking upstream. The main stream is to the right of this picture, but this new channel has replaced the former main stream for volume of water flow and the old ditch is now a backwater. You may make out the dam in the middle distance.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

A Winter Clip and Something about Trail Cameras

This clip shows a young beaver, swimming across a feeding station. You can see some sticks from which the bark has been stripped, lying in the water. The camera was fixed in an alder tree and looked down onto the feeding station.

Beavers and most animals, in fact, notice the pink glow of the infra-red when the camera is triggered, and don't like it. An answer is to put the camera above their line of sight. The other thing that one has to beware of, and be patient about, is that any object such as a trail camera retains some human smell from being handled. Beavers are quickly aware of this and may avoid the vicinity of the camera until the stink of human has disappeared and they have become accustomed to its presence.

The reason why my more recent clips of video don't work on Blogger is that they come from a format that is not recognised by Blogger: no doubt they will be before long.

The clips of video that I took last winter with Trail Cameras, on the other hand, are AVIs and are recognised.

Trail cameras have their uses, the most spectacular of which is photographing animals that no one knew existed, or thought no longer existed, in a particular place. The ivory-billed woodpecker in Florida and some famous shots of snow leopards are cases in point.

They are useful, too, for carrying out censuses, their original purpose, I guess.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Lawns and Feeding Stations

Today started bright and sunny. The brilliant green of the grass next to the burn struck me once again. In the distance you can see the first of the dams that the beavers built to the east of the drive to Bamff.

You can see here how neatly the grass has been clipped. The water level is quite high, so the grass is underlain by it.

The middle dam has now been reinforced with spent raspberry canes. A good deal of work has been done on the dam in the last weeks.

And just to remind you of the purpose of this blog:

An adult swam up stream, got a whiff of me from the westerly wind and SLAP! and dived. And then went about and repeated the warning. For whom?

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

A Feeding Station and a Pair of Crane Flies

Beavers often like to eat in the same place. They cut sticks, for example, and take them to what has come to be called a 'feeding station' in English.

The French call these places 'réfectoires' which, to an English speaking ear, sounds monastic.

Be that as it may, I looked at the lawn that the beavers are in the custom of grazing at the side of the stream and found some cut wild raspberry canes. They had been stripped of their leaves and fruit. A single stem of stinging nettle can be seen in the picture and a rather ancient stem of hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) is to be seen in the next photo.

Walking on down to the lowest of the three dams, I stood and looked upstream. As I stood I noticed a pair of crane flies, locked in copulatory embrace. They landed and settled on a fern, which gave me time to change lenses and photograph them.

Monday, 10 August 2009

A Beaver Kit at Bamff

We returned from Argyll and I found among my emails one in which the rarity of photographs of beavers in this blog was remarked on. After dining, therefore, we set off. Louise walked on down the drive and I walked through the wood to the Big Pond and waited with my camcorder. The wind was in the north, but very light. At last, this kit appeared, out of nowhere.

Here is the link to You Tube for the short clip of video that I was able to take.

I walked back along the drive and took the path that runs above the burn. An adult beaver was grazing on the lawn that they have made by the water's edge, so I tried to film it, but the light was very poor and by the time that I had moved to a better place along the path the animal had gone.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Some History about the Beavers at Bamff and a Visit to Mid-Argyll

A couple of friends have asked that I write some historical background to the beaver project at Bamff.

The story starts with the announcement in about 1997 by Scottish Natural Heritage that they proposed to return the Eurasian beaver to Scotland. Some research was commissioned and in 1998 there was a launch to a process of public consultation. SNH's favoured plan was to release beavers in the catchment of the river Tay because their research showed that this was the area of Scotland with the most suitable habitat.

The project soon ran into heavy opposition from salmon fishery interests, the National Farmers' Union of Scotland and some commercial forestry interests (though not the Forestry Commission) and the idea that there might be a general release was squashed.

A committee was set up under the chairmanship of Roger Wheater (a past director of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, chairman of the National Trust for Scotland and a member of the board of Scottish Natural Heritage) with a membership that seemed to me to be drawn from all the interests that were hostile to the beaver's return and individuals who were indifferent to the beaver from bodies that, in principle, were favourable to the restoration of this old native of our fauna.

The committee concluded that there should be a trial project in Knapdale in Argyll, once a licence to release beavers there had been obtained from the Scottish Government (which gave opposers more time to lobby against even this reduced trial).

It was around this time that some friends got together and we decided to set up a Scottish Beaver Network, or Group. We felt that Scottish Natural Heritage needed encouragement and support in the face of the determined opposition that confronted it. We also thought that, if necessary, we should carry out a trial of our own in enclosed ground.

One of the factors that determined this decision was the perception that those opposed to the official trial were going to insist on so many conditions that the cost of the project would become hard for SNH to meet.

So we went ahead. There were many problems. How to get beavers? Where would they come from and who would quarantine them?

Luckily, the Kent Wildlife Trust had hit on the idea that they should manage one of their reserves (Ham Fen) by using beavers to cut the abundant growth of willows. It turned out that Roy Dennis had connections in Norway so, through his good offices it was possible to make the right contacts. Arrangements were made and it was agreed that any spare beavers would come to Bamff.

So it was that a pair of beavers reached us on the first of March 2002, followed by two females that July.

It wasn't until 2005, however, that beavers bred successfully.


In the meantime, the official attempt at a trial in Knapdale made little progress. Rhona Brankin, environment minister in the Labour/LibDem administration at Holyrood, turned down SNH's application for a licence in about 2005.

Fortunately, when the Scottish Nationalists replaced the Labour Party in 2007 (?) they accepted the application for a licence by a revamped partnership between the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

These organisations were faced with a need to raise some £2 million to fund the trial, but seem to be on their way to achieving this sum.

I visited Knapdale yesterday, a rainy day, typical of Argyll, and took these photographs.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Another Walk along the Burnieshed (aka a Bit of the Cateran Trail)

I felt that I could have done better with the photograph of the Yellow Loosestrife that I posted yesterday. Here, then, is another pic.

Similarly, the photograph of the grass that the beavers have been grazing by the burnside was not as clear as I should have liked, Here is another photograph to show the neat way in which beavers graze the riparian vegetation.

The main crops of raspberries may mostly have been picked by the students from the Czech Republic, Poland and other East European countries, but the wild raspberries have ripened only recently.

A cloud of flies flew up and I wondered why there should be so many all of a sudden. As I walked back up the path after taking the next shot, I noticed this fresh Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus).

And here is another photograph of the lowest of the ponds on the Burnieshed Burn, the rewilded ditch.

The taking of this picture was the purpose of my walk because it seemed to me that yesterday's shot was a little flat.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Home Again!

Home again and back to the old routines! The wild boar are looking well: the sows, having weaned their piglets, have recovered condition and their coats gleam with good health. The black boar, meanwhile, is full of his usual swagger and looks fine in his summer coat.

While we were away there was a good deal of rain and the beaver ponds are almost up to their winter levels now.

The beavers have worked on the bottom dam and raised its parapet, as the photograph below shows.

The next photograph shows the lawn by the burn, carefully grazed by the beavers.

For much of the summer I have watched this Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris) spreading on to the silty shore of one of the ponds. For a long time I couldn't make out what the young shoots were and then I noticed the parent plants a few metres further inland.

Yellow Loosestrife is an inhabitant of 'ditches, marshes and by lakes and rivers' according to Stace's New Flora of the British Isles.

My new lens has made it possible for me to take more satisfactory photographs of invertebrate life. Here is a beautiful hoverfly. Could it be a male Marmalade Fly (Episyrphus balteatus)?

Here, in summer mode, is the lowest pond along the burn that the beavers are reclaiming.

The winter barley has been cut and the straw baled in this field next to the Dean Water.

The mystery trapper has removed his apples and carrots from near the entrance to the lodge and the trail camera has gone. Perhaps he is trying his luck somewhere else? I hope not.

I didn't see a beaver in the Dean Water yesterday evening, but one slapped its tail near me as I sat and waited by the water.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

That Prince Edward Island Paper

Sharon Brown has kindly agreed that I may publish the article, to which I referred in an earlier post, about the Prince Edward Island paper.

I have copied it from the Summer 2009 number of 'Beaversprite', but the way it has come out in my pdf file is rather different from the original appearance of the piece. However, the content should be the same.

Dam Controversy

Can a Flawed Report
Harm Beavers in
Canada and Scotland?

Photo courtesy of Paul Ramsay.
Salmon cross beaver dams via small breaches, such as the overflow to the left. Another shot of this dam on an angling group’s press release did not show the overflow and the caption read, “No way through for the salmon…"

“Today is the official reintroduction of beavers at Knapdale [Scotland],” Paul Ramsay announced during a May 28th phone call. Eleven beavers were finally released to the
wild that day after a six-year campaign to restore the keystone species to Scotland.

Soon after Ramsay’s celebratory call, BWW learned that a Scottish angling group was still fighting the beaver release trial, using a new report that was commissioned by a fishermen’s group in Canada. A controversial new report that blames beaver dams for the decline of Atlantic salmon in the eastern Canadian province of Prince Edward Island (P.E.I) is making ripples across the Atlantic. In Scotland, the Salmon and Trout Association has used “A
Conservation Strategy for Atlantic Salmon in Prince Edward Island ” by Daryl Guignion to lobby against the re-introduction of wild beavers.

Yet fisheries biologists say Guignion’s drastic recommendations — that trappers remove beavers entirely from ten river systems on Prince Edward Island (P.E.I) and maintain “beaver-free ” zones in many others — lack scientific credibility.

Fisheries biologists say
that Guignion’s drastic
beaver recommendations
lack scientific credibility.

If Guignion’s beaver management strategy is being considered on P.E.I, as a few sources report, this may be due to his popularity as an island environmentalist, and a retired professor with 40 years at the University of Prince Edward Island, rather than the merit of those recommendations. Fisheries biologist Michael Pollock of the U.S.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said, “No disrespect to the author, but I found it [the report] to be mostly anecdotal and speculative, with little science to back up the statements that were made in regard to the impact of beaver on Atlantic salmon populations. Further, I
believe there is scientific evidence that suggests beaver ponds are beneficial to juvenile Atlantic salmon. Overall, I did not find the report credible enough to warrant a review.... ”

Fisheries biologist Jake Jacobson, who is Watershed Steward for Snohomish County, WA, said, “The Guignion report statements do not seem to be science based . . . Beaver have not been shown to negatively influence salmon stock abundance in any science report I ’ve seen.

”Funding for this report ($44,500) came from the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation (a nonprofit that was given control of a multimillion dollar endowment by the Canadian government in 2007), and the P.E.I. Council of the Atlantic Salmon Federation commissioned it. Guignion did only eight months of fieldwork for the report, and calls his effort a “ challenge to amalgamate much of knowledge pieced together by oral history, treasured colleagues, priceless documents and community leaders and cover hundreds of kilometers…”

Although the report includes five tables with results of surveys of redds (salmon nests) and juvenile salmon on P.E.I. rivers, it contains no data about any effects of beaver dams upon Atlantic salmon migration. Guignion claims, “…beaver dams frequently block [fish] movement upstream (3.2.3), ” with a reference to substantiate this from an earlier section.

Continued on p. 5

Salmon/Dam, Continued from p. 4 of his paper.

That section contains personal observations, such as witnessing dead salmon entangled in beaver dams — although salmon dying from any cause upstream may well wind up at a dam.

To shore up his claim that blockage of the salmon’s migration by beaver dams is a major factor in the decline of P.E.I.’s salmon, Guignion quotes from Lindsay Foster ’s report on a 2005 pilot project in one county — although this was not a peer-reviewed study either. Biologist Duncan Halley of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, a leading international center for aquatic research, said, “If the Guignion report has any merit, it should be published in a reputable peer-reviewed scientific journal. Otherwise it is an opinion. ”

BWW asked Guignion whether any of his report’s references, besides the Foster project, indicate that beaver dams impact salmon, but he had no answer. When asked why he didn’t publish his paper in a peer-reviewed journal, he replied, “The material was there and I was asked to do it by the ASF [Atlantic Salmon Federation]. ”

King of fish

The Atlantic salmon has been called the “king of fish ” and many organizations are concerned about its shrinking populations. Because these salmon often spend two years at sea, they are vulnerable to commercial fishing and ocean pollution. According to a 2007 report from the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO), the salmon’s marine mortality may have doubled since the 1970s. In June of 2009 NASCO reported that of 18 concerned countries only Ireland “ fully subscribes to best practices in fisheries management. ”

Many other factors have contributed to this salmon’s decline during the part of its life spent in freshwater. These include sedimentation—farm runoff loaded with silt can suffocate salmon eggs, pollution—P.E.I. has had several pesticide related fish kills, involving thousands of fish, over-extraction of

“... it’s very rare to have complete blockage of an entire river system [by beaver dams] for the span of the season.”

water from streams, and over-fishing. Guignion recommends “a province wide no kill, barbless hook, catch and release policy for salmon at least for the next five years ” along with several other suggestions that appear helpful.

Good leapers

Atlantic salmon are good leapers, according to Richard Cunjak, a leader of the Canadian Rivers Institute at the University of New Brunswick. He explained that the fish’s scientific name, Salmo salar, attests to this ability because “salar ” means ‘the leaper. ”

“Although a beaver dam can be an obstacle for salmon, ” Dr. Cunjak said, “ dams are not a complete obstacle in most situations. Usually beaver dams are broken by high water in the spring and are no problem for the smolt [young salmon migrating to the sea]. In the fall there can be more problems with dams, but most salmon are able to surmount them if there’s a bit of a breach in the dam, or they go around the ends. ” [The photo on page 4 shows water flowing over a breach, which salmon might use to cross the dam.] “ They scoot through breaches or use
side channels. They may be delayed for a few days or a week, but it’s very rare to have complete blockage of an entire system for the span of the season. ”

Dr. Cunjak co-authored a 2006 paper that indicated young Atlantic salmon grow faster in beaver ponds, as also occurs with other salmon in the West. He mentioned that fish downstream of the beaver pond grew slower, “but that’s good, because you want variability in systems. ”

Ecosystems with more variability and biodiversity tend to be more stable and healthy. A keystone species, such as the beaver, maintains habitat for many other species.

Prince Edward Island has the densest human population of any Canadian province, and the potent combination of rapid development with intensive potato farming upon the island’s highly erodible soils has affected many of its waterways. It’s not unusual for streams in P.E.I.’s large potato belt to turn a muddy red color following strong rainfalls, and many are clogged with silt. Could such clogging just below dams interfere with the salmon’s crossing dams? “ It can be tough to make a big leap

An Atlantic salmon parr, the name given to the young fish while living in a freshwater

Continued on p. 13

Beaversprite Summer 2009 13 Salmon/Dam, Continued from p. 5

from a shallow depth,” Cunjak replied, but he said the salmon will usually spawn below a dam when certain areas upstream are unavailable.

What is “normal”?

Guignion quotes a P.E.I. resident who recalled a stream crew removing over 100 beaver dams from a river branch in the 1980s “to restore somewhat normal flow patterns.” Do people on P.E.I, as in parts of the U.S., have a distorted view of what is “normal” for streams, because beavers were absent for decades and only a small percent of that species’ original population survives today?

Bruce Smith, fisheries biologist at the Salmon and Challis National Forests in Idaho, commented on the this report, “he begins by saying, ‘It is believed...’ and everything in his report flows from that basic assumption. I don’t know the area, but suspect that is hasn’t been in a natural state since the 1600s at least, when Europeans began mining American furbearers, beaver in particular, after depleting their own.”

Beavers are native to P.E.I., according to Randy Dibblee, wildlife biologist with the provincial environmental agency. The native tribe of MicMacs may have contributed to the species extirpation by responding to European traders’ high demand for beaver pelts during the 1600s and 1700s. Since then, beavers were reintroduced on the island, and wiped out a few more times, with the last reintroduction occurring on the eastern portion of the island during the 1970s.

Dibblee commented on the Guignion report, “It overemphasizes the beaver problem with anadromous fish” [those that spend part of their life in freshwater and part at sea], and does not credit the beavers with any benefits. They do provide nursery areas for both trout and salmon.”

When discussing beaver dams, Guignion stated, “Water often spills over the dam in several locations and each of these ‘braids’ can carve a new channel until the braid reaches the old stream bed.… Downstream from the beaver dam, sediment accumulates from the new channels cut by the braids…”

Because beaver dams normally hold back silt, with downstream reaches being relatively clear, BWW asked Dibblee’s opinion about whether the channels downstream of dams are causing sedimentation, as the above excerpt implies, or if the silt deposits could be already present due to runoff. He strongly agreed with the latter. Dibblee added, “The beaver problem on P.E.I. is miniscule compared with the soil erosion problem due to land mismanagement.”

Potatoes rule

“Sediment infilling streams,” the second of Guignion’s “two major limiting factors” for salmon, may be causing much of what the author blames on beavers. Only five months before completing his report, Guignion told CBC news, “the biggest threats to salmon on P.E.I. are sediment and runoff coming from farmers’ fields and highways, and rivers blocked by bridges and culverts that prevent salmon from moving upstream.”

This 2009 report also states, “All streams on Prince Edward Island are affected, to some degree, by sediment.. Ironically, before giving his recommendations that would destroy countless acres of beaver wetlands on the island province, Guignion lists past efforts to improve the island’s environmental quality, including, “A wetland policy protects those essential areas.” The tough wetlands policy that the province adopted in 2003, includes a goal of “no net loss,” and the beaver wetlands are included in their wetlands inventory. The beaver page of the P.E.I. environmental agency states, “Perhaps the greatest value that beavers provide is their ability to create wetlands and pond habitats...”

Large woody debris”

“Large woody debris is essential in streams,” according to Guignion’s report, “and should only be removed after consultation….” Yet beaver dams function like “large woody debris” by slowing the flow of streams, and holding back silt. As the website of the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife explains,” Beaver dams helps to reestablish the historic sponge effect of nearby wetlands, thus improving downstream water quality by removing sediments.”

Several feet of silt are often stored behind older beaver dams.The massive removal of dams could backfire and exacerbate the salmon’s decline on P.E.I. by eliminating good habitat for young fish upstream of dams while increasing both turbidity and sedimentation downstream.

Although Guignion calls beaver dam blockage and sedimentation the “two primary limiting factors” for Atlantic salmon on P.E.I., he lists a total of 21 recommendations to improve the province’s shrinking salmon stock. Only the first four involve removing beavers and their dams, and others may be more valid, such as replacing and repairing hundreds of damaged road culverts and 600 man-made dams that allow only limited passage of salmon, or are impenetrable. It would be a shame if this report’s egregious beaver strategy causes the valid recommendations to be overlooked.

It is not unusual for the beaver to become a scapegoat for man-made problems. It would be a disaster, however, if this report’s beaver recommendations are implemented on P.E.I., or taken seriously elsewhere.

As Dr. Pollock, and other biologists, say, Guignion’s statements about the impact of beaver dams on P.E.I.’s Atlantic salmon populations lack scientific credibility, and it would be surprising if the recommendations from this flawed report are used for beaver management decisions.

Sharon T. Brown

The P.E.I. Atlantic salmon report