Thursday, 30 December 2010

The Thaw, day 2 or may be 3

 The upper end of the Ditch/Burnieshed Burn is still iced over. Yesterday afternoon I took a walk along it. The place is a highway. Here are beaver tracks, but there are plenty of roe deer and fox tracks.

 This is a bit of a path that leads from a canal to a clump of willow. You may make out a beaver's front foot near my left boot and plenty of other foot marks as well. Besides these there are fox tracks. On the right you can make out the mark of a branch that has been dragged to the canal.

This is the same track that you saw in the last photograph, but looking further away towards the willows.

Dusk: I was surprised that my camera - an iPhone, could take such photos in the increasing dark. In the foreground is the path that beavers take over the dam and down into the stream.

A Happy New Year to my visitors!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

A Thaw

 A thaw at last! The beavers are out and about again. It seems to me that below about 5ºC they stay at home in their burrows and lodges but, once the temperature rises above freezing, they are out again on the quest for food. This beaver had been snipping a couple of small branches from a recumbent oak tree. 

Here is that middle dam along the Burnieshed Burn, below the drive.

Footmarks, including my left boot to give some idea of scale. We are all familiar with the enormous dog pads in a thaw that lead people to believe that they are looking at the spoor of a wolf. These beaver tracks looked enormous.

More tracks: a beaver's spoor with a fox's running diagonally into the ice covered pool. 

It looks as though the fox had been going to the open water for a drink. People often forget that a time of deep frost is also a time of drought. One of the services that beavers perform for other animals is to keep ponds and pools open for longer than would otherwise be the case, enabling these other creatures to find water to drink. In the case of wildfowl open water means a measure of security from predators such as foxes.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Another Press Release from Scottish Natural Heritage

This is the latest press release from Scottish Natural Heritage with comments from Louise Ramsay in red. The comments in blue are from me (Paul Ramsay)

Tayside beaver recapture

We have produced this statement to clarify matters regarding our involvement in trapping feral beavers in Tayside.

A number beavers have either escaped or been deliberately released into the wild in Tayside. Unlicensed release of animals in an area where they would not ordinarily be found is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which is why the police are involved.

The position of SNH and the Scottish Government is questionable. The equivalent body in England to SNH is Natural England. In 2009 they published a document:

NECR002 - The feasibility and acceptability of reintroducing the European beaver to England.

This may be found at

The chapter on the legal position of the beaver is particularly illuminating.

Responsibility for the current situation, and the future fate of the feral beavers, lies entirely with those who failed to keep them in captivity and who have now failed to come forward and take responsibility for them.

This happened nearly ten years ago.  Why all the fuss now?  It would seem that the SRPBA has put its foot down. (They claim this as their victory on their website.) Do they run wildlife policy in this country then?

The national Species Reintroduction Forum agreed therefore that the most appropriate and responsible thing to do would be to recapture the Tayside feral beavers.

Membership of this forum includes conservationists, public agencies and wildlife charities, as well as farming, fishing, forestry and landowning interests (see full list at the end of this note).

Who are the national Species Reintroduction Forum? Many of the bodies on this forum are opposed to beavers.  No specialists in reintroductions or beavers were invited, other than the SWT who have now distanced themselves from this decision.

(See the following email from Simon Milne).

From: Simon Milne <>
Date: 20 December 2010 12:50:24 GMT
To: Louise Ramsay <>
Subject: Unlicensed Beavers

Just left a message on your answer-phone, and will try to call you later.  The issue of the feral beavers is indeed taxing. Things have moved on from the initial discussions at the Reintroductions Forum and SWT’s Council agreed line is:

1.    The Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) believes that the European beaver should be re-established in the wild in Scotland.
2.    SWT opposes the unlicensed release (intentional or accidental) of beavers into the Scottish countryside because it is illegal to release to the wild any animal which is not normally resident in Great Britain.
3.    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 reasons for supporting recapture are:

there was no consultation with local people;

The Scottish people were polled in the late 90s and 59% were in favour.  Informally, there was local consultation.  Many local people visited the beavers at Bamff whose dams lie along the Cateran trial: many attended talks and guided tours.

Furthermore, there has been no consultation about the removal of the  beavers to which many local people have become very attached.

there was no licence issued for their release;

It was an escape. But yes, it's true it wasn’t licensed.

there is no monitoring of their welfare, ecology or effects;

there is nothing to stop SNH monitoring them now.

there is no monitoring of animal or public health;


there is no plan or system of management in place; and

One could be made if it were thought necessary. 

there is no certainty that they are the appropriate species or type of beaver for Scotland.

Species can be tested without trapping.  (SNH know very well that it they are very unlikely to be the  wrong species).

You all know the” type” issue.

SASA (Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), in collaboration with the police and local landowners, are now trapping the beavers.

What? During this cold weather? I thought we had been told they weren’t.

We admire and respect the enthusiasm of people who are keen to see reintroductions of native animals to Scotland. We understand the strong ecological arguments in favour.

That's nice! Are SNH the 'wrong kind' of conservationists?

Like it or not, however, there are legal considerations that govern how this can be done, put in place by Parliaments to achieve the correct balance.

See NECR002.

We would also question whether public support for beaver reintroduction includes support for illegal and secret releases of animals to the wild.

This is a separate matter from the legal status of the beavers.

There is a licensed and carefully managed trial reintroduction of beavers underway at Knapdale in Argyll. This trial is being carried out by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, in accordance with international guidelines. SNH is coordinating the independent monitoring of the trial in partnership with a number of other bodies.

Some might say that the 'careful management' was one of gross over interference with the animals and may have contributed to the high mortality.

The European beaver is not listed as a protected species under domestic legislation because they are not ordinarily resident in Britain. We expect this would be reviewed if they were to be reintroduced permanently to Scotland.

It is quite possible that Scotland is breaking European law by not putting them on the “ordinarily resident” list now that they are breeding. ( See NECR002)

Origin of the beavers

The beavers that would once have inhabited Scotland were 'western form' European beavers. This is the specific form being used in the licensed reintroduction project currently underway in Argyll. They have come from Norway.

(And are inbred.)

If European beaver reintroduction is ever approved by the Scottish Government in the future, there could be the opportunity for Scotland to become a refuge for the western form of European beaver.

This is surely a most bizarre notion! There are 160,000 Eurasian beavers in Norway and Sweden, all descended from the may be 200 survivors in Telemark. Why would the United Kingdom be necessary as a refuge for the western form of the European beaver?

There are Bavarian beavers in the Thames and the Tamar as well, that have escaped from zoos and enclosures. 

Perhaps SNH's plan is to restore the beaver to England by stealth, as those caught in the Tay escape from captivity in those licensed zoos?

The origin of the Tayside beavers is uncertain. Most are believed to be from Bavaria. This means they are most likely 'eastern form' European, or a blend of eastern and western form.

The group knows this issue pretty well. Duncan Halley’s paper in Mammal Review is the last word on this subject.  The Kitchener Paper that SNH is going on is based on three skulls in the archaeological record.

Bavarian beavers can be carriers of a parasite tapeworm which is potentially harmful to human health and up until now has not been found in Great Britain. If any of the Tayside feral beavers are carrying this parasite, it could become established in the Scottish wildlife.

We are looking into this just now, but suspect that this is a storm in a teacup. I will post more on this later.

Is SNH clutching at straws? 

The parasite does not occur in Norway, and so Norwegian beavers are not known to be carriers.

Since nobody has admitted responsibility for the Tay beavers, there is also a chance that the North American beaver could be present. There are increasing numbers of records of these occurring in Europe.

We’ve seen this before. As before, it is vanishingly unlikely, but could be checked by genetically testing hairs. One sample from each colony would settle the subject.

Although it is unlikely that North American animals are present, we are not keen to take the risk.

These are all very valid reasons why the beavers in Tayside could not become part of the licensed reintroduction trial, and why they should be recaptured.

None of them is valid.

Also, at the end of the trial period the Scottish Government will decide whether it is appropriate and/or desirable to have beavers in Scotland. If they do they will extend the reintroduction beyond the trial phase. Alternatively, they may decide it's not appropriate and to abandon the reintroduction altogether.

If the Argyll trial is deemed a failure, (and no doubt this is what the SRPBA would like), then the Tayside beavers may turn out to be the only chance of a reintroduction this side of 2050.  Scotland would look like a very unfriendly place to wildlife compared to all its European neighbours. I don’t get the impression that this would draw a true picture of attitudes in Scotland.

The recapture of the Tayside beavers would by then be a much more expensive and onerous task than it is at present.

As for the scale of the task, we will learn more about this as the trapping exercise progresses. Evidence suggests there are between seven and 20 beavers loose in Tayside. Bait testing indicates that trapping them is feasible.

Welfare is a key consideration. The area being trapped initially has been used by three beavers; two kits and their mother. The kits are about 18 months old and welfare advice tells us they are capable of survival without their mother.

If welfare of the beavers really was a consideration SNH would leave them alone.

The beaver hunting season in Norway runs from October to April, confirming that this is the most appropriate time to trap them. We want to avoid trapping after dependent baby kits' might appear around mid-spring.

Trapped beavers will be handed over to the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland for holding and re-housing. As part of this RZSS will be wildlife parks and zoos around the UK that have suitable enclosures to house beavers.

Capturing beavers is not something we ever thought we would have to be involved in, nor is it something we would want to be spending resources on, particularly in such times as these.

However to take no action, and allow the feral beavers to remain in the wild, would be to ignore well established wildlife legislation and international species reintroduction guidelines. It would also set a very dangerous precedent; and possibly even encourage other illegal animal releases.

I don’t think the Belgians worried about this when they welcomed and protected their illegally introduced beavers.

That is not something that SNH, or any government organisation, can do.

In that case, are they trapping and removing all the grey squirrels, mink,, etc. and removing Japanese knotweed, Chinese balsam etc etc.  And if not why not? These and other non native species cost the British people around  1.7 billion every year



Scottish Natural Heritage is the Government's adviser on all aspects of nature and landscape across Scotland. Our role is to help everyone understand, value and enjoy Scotland's nature now and in the future. For further information on SNH, please visit our website at

The national Species Reintroduction Forum had its first meeting in May 2009. It is chaired by SNH and has a membership representing a range of stakeholders from land use, conservation and science sectors. The overall role of the Forum is to contribute to broad scale, strategic issues relating to species reintroductions in Scotland. Current membership includes: Association of Scottish Fishery Boards; Scottish Government; British Association for Shooting and Conservation; National Farmers Union Scotland; Scottish Gamekeepers Association; Scottish Rural Property and Business Association; British Waterways; Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; Scottish Environment Protection Agency; Scottish Water; Royal Zoological Society of Scotland; Scottish Natural Heritage (Chair); Scottish Wildlife Trust; Forestry Commission Scotland.

Most of these bodies know nothing about beavers. Some are hostile, others indifferent.  SRPBA claim this as their victory. (See their website).  SWT, one of only two conservation bodies on the forum has pulled back to a fence sitting position.

For further information: Calum Macfarlane, SNH Inverness, 01463 725020

Friday, 17 December 2010

Some wintery observations

Beaver tracks leaving a pond at Bamff. The beaver has walked back and forth, dragging a stick on the return journey to the water.

Here, on the banks of the Ericht, someone has cut the willow trees: no doubt those diligent fishermen. The coppice stools have sprouted young shoots, as you can see.

And here, on the River Isla not far from the Ericht, a beaver has done what the fishermen did in the previous photograph. What is the difference? The fishermen have cut the willows very low, leaving the new sprouts from the stool vulnerable to rabbits. 

 The fishermen have removed the bits of tree they cut, depriving the riparian environment of a habitat for fungi, liverworts and invertebrates of various kinds. The habitat has been impoverished. 

The beaver usually leaves more of the stem of the tree it has cut. This means that the longer coppice stool has more chance of surviving the predations of rabbits. Apart from this the untidy beaver carries off some bits of tree to strip, and then consumes the bark. The stripped stick may bee incorporated into a lodge, or be left to decay - another way of saying that the stick is being recycled by fungi, insects et al.

Our campaign to save the free beavers of the Tay continues.

It was astonishing to learn that the Scottish Wildlife Trust supported the SNH's creature, the Scottish Reintroductions' Forum, in its demand that the free beavers should be trapped and, if necessary, shot. 

We are relieved to have learned that the minister, Roseanna Cunningham (,  has said that the captured beavers are not to be shot, but the report of the meeting of the Scottish Reintroductions' Forum confirms the belief that there is no space in zoos or wildlife centres in the British Isles for any but a few beavers. It would be good if anyone who reads this blog wrote to Roseanna Cunningham to express their dismay at SNH's proposals for the free beavers of the Tay.

I guess that Christmas and the New Year will put a stop to trapping for the meantime, but we must prepare in all senses for a renewal of our campaign in 2011.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

To the confluence of the Ericht and the River Isla

The Blairgowrie sewage works are on the south bank of the Ericht, a little way out of the town, off the Welton Road. The habitat for beavers looks pretty good with plenty of willows along the banks and mixed broad leaved woodland on the slopes immediately above the riparian zone. 

The river is fished by the members of the Blairgowrie and Rattray and District Anglers Association, who are fairly assiduous in cutting back bankside vegetation. What they do is improvement of the facilities, but where the beavers carry out similar work it is described as damage ( However, it would be worth speaking to those who run the BRDAA because I detect a sense of excitement in the exclamation mark that punctuates the announcement in their web site of the presence of beavers in the rivers they fish..

We walked some way beyond the sewage works, but decided to move on to see the confluence of the Ericht with the Isla.

Here is the Isla, not far downstream of the confluence. Coupar Angus is in the distance on the slope to the left of the middle ground of the picture. The absence of riparian woodland shows that stretch to be of little interest to beavers.

Dusk was settling when we reached this point: the confluence of the Ericht and the Isla. 
There are some backwaters and bits of old oxbow in the Ericht just before the confluence, but the main features in the landscape are the extensive flood protection banks.

A flock of goldeneye lifted off from the river and I watched them fly into the darkness.

There were no signs of beaver along the bits of river that we looked at, but the negative helps define the places where we should pay attention next. 

Louise and I drove out of Blairgowrie and parked by the road end to the farm of Millhorn, whose tenant in the 1540s was required by his landlords, the Abbey of Coupar Angus, to provide them with cranes, herons and other wildfowl, including dotterel for the table. The photograph below shows the River Ericht in the middle ground with the hills above Alyth in the background. The path at that point is approaching Kitty Swanson's bridge. The lady, after whom the bridge was named, was the boat woman who rowed people who wished to cross the Ericht between Rattray and Blairgowrie, or so I have always thought.

This photograph shows the river, looking downstream from Kitty Swanson's bridge. The trees on the river's edge are mostly alder and the banks of the river are grassy, showing a history of grazing: not great habitat for beavers, but I did see a freshly barked stick that had probably been washed down from further upstream.

We walked upstream from Kitty Swanson's Bridge for a little. The fishermen of the Blairgowrie and Rattray Fishing Association had been very active in cutting back the bankside vegetation.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Dusk along the Ericht

A walk just before dusk along the Ericht just south of Blairgowrie. Word had reached me that a trap had been set for the beavers there. The river was in full spate with the thaw.

Floes of greenish ice raced past on the current. I saw no sign of any trap: it must be lower down nearer the confluence with the Isla.

The habitat along this stretch of the Ericht should be good for beavers with a lot of willow along the banks.

I took this photograph just by the sewage pipe that crosses the river on its way to the sewage plant.

Here is a web site that I discovered recently.

Well worth a look, I think.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

In the land of the ice king?

Now here is a link that should be read.

and here is an announcement:

I did think of writing more, but words escape me for the moment.

Jean-Pierre Choisy's Suggestion

Here is an email from Jean-Pierre Choisy. He sent me this on 1st December and I should have posted before now.

I think that we should think very closely about this useful suggestion.

Cher Paul,

Si cela est utile, vous pouvez diffuser le texte que je vous ai envoyé, éventuellement après corrections si difficile à comprendre

Cette destructions serait pertinente s'il s'agissait d'un exotique (Castor canadensis).
Mais si c'est Castor fiber ! 
Rappelez-moi quelles sont les raisons ? Ou...les prétextes ?
Et quelle est la situation juridique (espèce protégée ou non) aux échelles de l'Ecosse, de l'UK et de l'Union Européenne ?

Scandale analogue de ce genre sur l'Ebro, en Espagne : une trentaine d'individus issus d'une réintroduction clandestine.
L'Espagne  demande une dérogation à l'Union Européenne pour détruire cette espèce protégée.
Motivation : pour le principe, pas de lâchers clandestins !
Alors que l'Espagne est pleine d'exotiques (chasseur, pêcheurs, animaux et végétaux d'agrément), on envisage cette destruction, sans même étudier l'impact positif sur la biodiversité, surtout dans des régions à étés très secs.
Deux poids, deux mesures !

Seuls les Belges auront été sensés pragmatiques, objectifs comme modalités : devant l'inertie des pouvoirs publics, réintroduction illégale, ensuite acceptée, avec grand succès...y compris touristique.

Je propose que nous fassions un scandale européen sur Internet
Le plus vite possible, en ajoutant les compléments d'information récent sur l'Espagne et, a contrario, sur  la Belgique.
On devra mettre en évidence le rôle positif pour la biodiversité ainsi que la complaisance pour les lâchers par chasseurs et pêcheurs d'exotiques nuisant à la biodiversité : DEUX POIDS, DEUX MESURES !
Reste à décider dans quel cadre associatif on le ferait.


J.-P. Choisy

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Ponds and Food Caches

Out for a walk yesterday evening and the evening before that, Louise saw a couple of beavers out swimming in the pool east of the drive. It was half past four in the afternoon and dusk was gathering.

 The campaign for the free beavers in the Tay rolls on. It would be extraordinary if they were to be captured and removed to face imprisonment or death at the hands of legalistic authorities. The last beaver to be caught in Scotland, so far as I know, was the creature that landed at Tentsmuir Point and went to live in the Morton Lochs. Its presence there upset the neighbouring landowner, Johnnie Foster, and was captured in due course. After a stay in Edinburgh Zoo this beaver was taken to a wildlife centre in England whence it escaped and is said to be living in the Thames. Good luck, beaver! Perhaps you will be joined by others in due course.

Last winter it seemed to me that beavers stayed at home once the temperature fell below -6ºC. I saw fewer signs of tracks and other activity once the temperature dropped that low.

Now, here is a blog that is full of interesting information. The post on this blog is about Canadian beavers (Castor canadensis), but most of what is said applies to the Eurasian species.

The Eurasian species tends to build bank lodges or burrows, while the North American tends to build lodges in ponds, as described in the post (

The recently felled trees, and it is hard to tell which they are in this picture as some were felled in past years, represent the beavers' larder for the winter. A friend asked if the beavers were well prepared for this hard weather. It is difficult to tell but, on the basis of what they have been felling through the autumn, I should say so.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010


Guideline - the word has been on my mind for some time. I consulted Wikipedia and found this useful sentence 'By definition, following a guideline is never mandatory (protocol would be a better term for a mandatory procedure).

So what is it with SNH that they should complain that the free beavers of the river Tay in Scotland have not followed the IUCN guidelines? They are, after all, only guidelines, not protocols. 

Now, here is a sight that mystified me. I think that an otter has played around. By the time that I saw this the temperature was rising and the ice was turning to slush.

In the meantime we learn that a 'volunteer' has been appointed to trap the beavers in the Tay. It seems that a particular lodge has been marked for the trapper's attention and SNH's spies have ascertained that it is occupied by one adult and two yearlings. The lodge is said to be near Blairgowrie which, I suppose, means that the lodge is on the river Ericht, a tributary of the Isla, itself a tributary of the Tay.

Here is that same pool a couple of days later.

Here is an email from my excellent friend, Jean-Pierre Choisy, ecologist for the Parc Regional of the Vercors.

Now (XXI° century) in France, in Germany, even in a country with a tremendous human density as the Netherlands are, the Eurasian Beaver is not only accepted but welcome too, for itself and as biodiversity restorer, in spite in some place of problems easy to solve, absolute not to compare with Red Deer or Wild Boar.

Now, Beaver settle again remote places in the Alps, with a human density of some per square kilometer and, as well, the center of towns as Valence, Grenoble, Lyons.

Do I actually understand ?
Scotland would not be able to accept Biodiversity's restoration nor of the Beaver neither by the Beaver ?
I hope not ! I hope I mis understood because of mypoor english
Since tens of years, for me the UK is (was?) the first for commitment for Biodiversity's conservation and restoration in Europe.
But if understood right, I should habe to endure a major and very desillusing change of my perception of the country...

Please, more information and...better I though.

Best regards !

Jean-Pierre Choisy

Thursday, 25 November 2010

SNH's Programme for the Welfare of the Free Beavers in the Tay

The word is that SNH/SASA have hired a man to do their trapping and have acquired six traps. This person will concentrate on cleansing the Blairgowrie area to start with. SNH's public relations' person is alleged to have said that the trapping of the beaver was for welfare reasons.

A skin of ice covers the big pond here. Luckily for the ducks the beavers are keeping a passage open so that they can forage for pond weed.

This old birch has come to the attention of the beavers. According to a study quoted in Dietland Müller-Schwarze and Lixing Sun's 'The Beaver - Natural History of a Wetlands Engineer' a beaver in Michigan will harvest 1400kg of woody biomass per hectare per year.

Time for a walk!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Ethnic Cleansing of the Free Beavers of the Tay?

I took this first photograph yesterday morning during my daily round of feeding our wild boar. At first I thought that this little dam must have been partly burst in the recent heavy rains, but held together well enough for the main part to remain. However, looking at the photographs I took I have come to think that it is one of those cases where beavers have decided to regulate the water level and have done some digging to make this so. 

In this photograph you can see how much the water level has dropped in that section of the burn.

And here you can see that a channel has been dug in the side of the dam by the bank to act as the bypass outlet of the dam.

Now here is some astonishing news

I learned recently that Scottish Natural Heritage had commissioned the Scottish Agricultural Science's Agency to trap and remove the unlicensed beavers in the River Tay. 

What an extraordinary move! It is true that the free beavers in the Tay have no licences from the Scottish Government to be there but, as I understand it, once re-established as a breeding population, they are covered by the protecting legislation of the European Union - the Habitats' Directive of 1992.

People must find it very odd that SNH are supporting a project in Knapdale in Argyll that is projected to cost around £2million of taxpayers, generous charitable bodies' and kindly individuals' money while, at the same time, commissioning the eradication of an accidental restoration that has cost no taxpayers' money.

I should say that I have always supported the SWT/RZSS project in Knapdale - I would support the return of the Eurasian beaver anywhere that was suitable.

How much will SNH spend on their misguided programme in the Tay? I think we should be told. Perhaps there is time for some common sense to intervene and Scottish Natural Heritage will call and end to this folly.

I took this last photograph yesterday afternoon a little after sundown. On the right of the photograph, above the dam, is that fence straining post. Here is a landscape that is both man made and wild.

Have you been watching Prof. Iain Stewart's brilliant series 'The Making of Scotland's Landscape'?
I watched the fourth one yesterday afternoon. You may find it at

Monday, 15 November 2010

A Washout and Some Work on a Canal

I came across this young dam on the fourth of August and watched its progress over the next three months, but don't seem to have taken any photographs of it until the 9th of November, by which time some heavy rain had washed it about thirty metres downstream from its original site.

That is how it was as a young dam and it grew considerably, but then came the rains of October and I was surprised to find this chunk of dam some way downstream of its original site. Perhaps with more timber struts it would have survived? What will the beavers do now? They may feel that it will be enough to link the dam to the bank where it is now. Will they think it necessary to build a new dam in the original place?

By the time of its washing away the dam had developed extensions on the bank of the ditch and it was just the plug that was pushed downstream

This canal has had some work done on it and, with the recent rains, it is becoming an ever more convincing canal, extending the beavers' penetration of the willow wood.

A snipe flew up as I walked across the wetland just to the left of the picture below. It was the first I had seen for a while. I haven't seen any woodcock around for a while, but frost and some wind from the East  should bring them across the North Sea to spend the winter with us.