Wednesday, 28 October 2009

A Walk to the Wet Wood

This is the dam that I photographed last on the 14th October: not a lot of change.

The mild weather has kept the green in the aquatic vegetation in this ditch.

The near ground in this picture was cleared by the beavers in the summer of 2002 and, owing to browsing by roe deer, has remained open. Some scattered willows survive.

In the distance is some grey alder and grey willow. The brown vegetation in the middle ground is dock (Rumex sp.)

Within the woodland the beavers have continued to thin and extract timber.

Looking back from inside one of the copses down a path made by the beavers for the extraction of timber.

The photograph shows that beaver path a little further down, at the point where it enters a canal that the beavers dug some years ago, but which has been dredged.

This copse of willow has been given a good thinning by the beavers. It will be interesting to see how it develops.

Here is the original lodge that Roy Dennis and Alan and Heather Bantick built in December 2001.

The lodge has been occupied on and off ever since. As you can see the beavers have just done some maintenance work on the roof, so the lodge is now ready for winter.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

A Walk along the Burnieshed Path

The rains of the last few days have more than refilled the ponds.

The overflows from the big dam below the drive are running again and, as the water level downstream is higher than it has ever been owing to the heightening of the other dams further downstream, I begin to wonder how long it would be before a salmon (were such a fish to consider swimming as far upstream as this) would leap the main part of the dam and not have to make do with the overflows.

The sight of the felled and bark stripped birch tree in the middle distance makes me wonder why beavers would be eating such an indigestible food at this time of year.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

That Formerly Lowest Dam

I am posting this photograph separately because it would not blow up in the original post - maddeningly because the other pictures all blew up nicely.

It would be good to know how to ensure that photographs that one inserts do respond to the double click.

Water cress is a great feature of the downstream side of these big dams. You can see it as the darker green mass of vegetation growing against the dam.

Burnieshed Burn - The New Lacustrine Landscape

Despite the low rainfall for the better part of the last two months, the beavers have continued to work on their dams. Indeed, as the water levels fell in each pond the beavers made particular efforts to ensure the impermeability of their dams. So, although some rain fell before I took these photographs, the landscape in this part of the Burnieshed has become steadily more lacustrine.

The lawn (mid left in this photo) that the beavers maintained by grazing is on its way to extinction.

Here is what was the bottom dam. The parapet is heightened and the dam has been extended a bit to the south (the left side of the picture).

The existence of the new dam, still only a plug across the burn, has raised the water level below this dam.

This is the new bottom dam from upstream. It is one of a flight of four in the sequence that runs below the drive to Bamff House.

It is built across the burn just north of a large old Sitka spruce tree. Last winter overflow from the dam upstream to the west flowed round the trunk of this tree. What will happen this winter?

Saturday, 17 October 2009

A Lodge and Two Dams

Autumn is the busiest time for beavers as they prepare for winter.

I had begun to wonder if this lodge had been abandoned, but fresh maintenance work shows that beavers intend to live in it for the winter.

This photograph shows the pond that was created by the building of a dam last year and which is being expanded by the extension of that dam and by the felling of more trees on what is now the shore.

A dry September and October have followed a very wet summer and water levels are low.

This is the second dam below the drive here at Bamff. Like the other dams it is being extended and built up to contain the water in the pond upstream.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

A Walk to the Wet Wood

A few days' absence and a persistent viral infestation of some kind kept me away from the beavers' terrain.

However, on the 14th I wandered forth.

October is the busy month for beavers. They are preparing for winter and must do maintenance work on their dams and lodges. Trees must be felled to provide the material for construction and to make it easy to access the tender bark of the more distant twigs.

I planted most of the trees along this riparian strip in 2002 and 2003. They have just started to attract the attention of the beavers and quite a number have been cut.

A new dam has been begun.

I came across this dam on the 8th of June for the first time. Here it is: built mainly of stone with grass and turf to make it more or less water proof.

By the sixth of August it looked like this. The stones are covered up.

By the 14th of October the dam looked like this. Not a very rapid progress in terms of length of ground covered or height built, but the dam was extraordinarily solid to walk on. It felt like a real causeway.

I started on this post on the 14th October, just a week ago, but forgot it and only came upon it a few minutes ago.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The PAW(S) Seminar at Battleby, Scotland

Last Wednesday I attended a seminar of the Partnership against Wildlife Crime (Scotland) at Battleby Conference Centre near Perth.

The meeting had been organised by the police and was introduced by the Scottish Government's Minister for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham. The minister was followed by a senior policeman, Deputy Chief Constable Ian MacLeod. The gist of what these two senior people said was that Wildlife Crime was high up on the agenda of crimes and that, far from being the work of people who led an otherwise blameless existence, it was often carried out by the same people who stole diesel and vehicles from farms and carried out other acts of criminality.

After the introductory talks, Alan Stewart, well known for his pursuit of poisoners of birds of prey took the stand and spoke very ably. He was followed by Tom Dysart, the Regional Fiscal for Tayside. In Scotland we have a system whereby the police investigate and then present their evidence to the Procurator Fiscal, who has to decide if the evidence provided warrants a prosecution. The Fiscal was very clear in his account of what his profession did and was followed by Sheriff Kevin Drummond QC.

Sheriffs in Scotland are judges and sit in particular sheriffdoms. Sheriff Drummond sits in the Borders. He spoke most interestingly about his work, describing the questions that arose when it came to sentencing someone, particularly a middle-aged first offender (e.g. a game keeper of otherwise respectable career, for whom the consequences of conviction could be terrible, leading even to suicide). He also talked about changing values in society and gave the example of driving under the influence of alcohol. Forty years ago to be drunk when driving was not thought to be a terrible offence, but now society in this country, at least, sees 'drunk driving' as a serious offence. Similarly, in the past destroying birds of prey was thought little of, but now this is seen in a different light altogether. Badger baiting, hare coursing and various forms of salmon poaching are among other kinds of wildlife crime, as are destroying the nests of protected birds, bats and so forth. Alan Stewart, himself a retired policeman, has written a couple of very readable books ('Wildlife Detective' and another published this year) about his pursuit of wildlife criminals (

I sat through all this with great interest so, when it came to the time for questions I felt comfortable and relaxed. My comfortable state, however, was short-lived because Malcolm Strang Steel, a retired partner of the law firm Turcan Connell, boomed out a question. It went something like this:'We have heard a lot about a particular kind of wildlife crime but, and I say this in the presence of Mr Beaver Ramsay, who I see is in the audience, what about the case of a beaver that has been released into the Tay, has landed in Fife and has then done considerable damage in blocking a farmer's ditches?' And so on.

Sheriff Drummond replied to this saying something to the effect that 'As he had said earlier, different people felt very strongly about different things. He quite understood this, but it was a matter of priorities. In this instance one beaver had escaped from somewhere and had been recovered. How much time and money should be devoted to this? Should the police employ ten people to investigate this 'crime'? It was a matter of resources.

That is what the Sheriff said, so far as I recollect and I was much relieved.

Here is a photograph, if a little blurred, of Malcolm Strang Steel. No, I should not have said blurred: it is in soft focus.

I had signed on for the workshop about Release of or allowing non-native species to escape. Angela Robinson of the Scottish Government spoke about this.

Here are some of her slides.

My feeling about this presentation was that Government, as too often was seeking draconian measures that might well prove difficult to impose, even if most of the proposals seemed well intentioned.

As the majority of invasive non-aliens are that reach these shores are intended to be garden plants we should surely be planning to close down the garden centres!

A recent article about non-native species of plants and animals suggested that very few
became seriously invasive, though it is true that those that do can become a real problem - Japanese knotweed that Himalayan balsam that is now everywhere. But there is, it seems to me, an element of hysteria about all this non-nativeness and invasiveness. Angela Robinson didn't agree with me when I suggested that.

Of course, the fact is that the kind of criminalisation that all this 'Reform' will cause is one that I have been sensitive to ever since Alan Stewart came to visit me in February 2007 as a result of a report that a beaver had escaped from one of my enclosures. He pointed out the relevant section of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and took down my name, date of birth and other details in his note book.

Then, in the autumn of 2007 Colin Castle, someone who works for Scottish Natural Heritage, felt impelled to report me to the police for allowing beavers to expand beyond their enclosure onto new ground.

In the afternoon there were more workshops, so I attended one about badgers. The main things that I learned from this were the confirmation that there is almost no TB among cattle in Scotland and that there is no TB among badgers in Scotland. Sadly, gangs drive up to the north of Scotland from England in pursuit of their lust to bait badgers.

The meeting was very well attended. There were police people, representatives from the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. There were gamekeepers, water bailiffs, people from the Tayside Badger Group, rangers from the Loch Lomond National Park and Atholl Estate. Simon Blackett, the factor of Invercauld was there and Louise Batchelor, the journalist, and Philippa Revill from the Forestry Commission, last seen at the beaver symposium in Lithuania. The Chief Executive Officer of the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association was there, but hardly a landowner. Libby Anderson of Advocates for Animals was there and, of course, Malcolm Strang Steel was there to represent the old and bold, who think that there are far too many buzzards and hen harriers.

In short it was a very well organised event.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Last Words about the Dubengiai Experience

This a photograph, taken by Christof Angst from Switzerland, on the day of our excursion, Wednesday, 23rd September, to visit beaver sites near Dubingiai.

Christof is seen here talking to Jorn van den Bogaerts. Christof has experience of the reintroduction of lynx to Switzerland and was most interesting in describing this, including the complexities of dealing with farmers in the Alps.

Marie-Laure Schwoerer is from Alsace and works for the French Office de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage.

Jørn Pagh Berthelsen stands facing us. He is talking to Derek Gow and Jorn van den Bogaert. someone else is in the group, but I cannot see enough of his face to make out who he is.

Duncan Halley from NINA, the Norwegian Nature Conservation organisation is talking to Göran Hartman, but what are they discussing?

No doubt it is something that came out of one of the presentations. Perhaps they are discussing the apparent decline of the Canadian beaver in Karelia relative to the expansion of the Eurasian species in that area, as presented by one of the Russian colleagues?

The talks were full of interest and ranged from the beaver's palaeontology, dispersal and population, reintroduction, effects on river systems in a geomorphological sense, their impacts on fish and so forth.

In an earlier post I was disparaging about the SNH presentation, but it was good that so many British people from the official project in Scotland came to Lithuania because we all need to learn about beavers from our fellows in Eurasia and North America: they have a long experience of beavers and their management, most of it relevant to us in the United Kingdom.

Posters hung on the walls of the main conference room. They were highly informative and some were beautifully designed.

This poster from Luxembourg won the poster competition

The excursion ended with our arrival at what some French geographers decided was the geographical centre of Europe.

There was, of course, much discussion about this, but not enough time to reach a resolution because some of us had to catch a train from Vilnius.