Sunday, 20 March 2011

Spring comes - learn your plants again!

I meant to post this photo this morning, but forgot. The picture shows the outlet of the Big Pond. It is fenced around with stock netting and there is a piece of concrete reinforcing mesh to guard the main outlet. I have always been worried that this might be a place through which beavers might try to escape, but I have never seen any signs of it. On the contrary, today I noticed that they have been damming the outlet at one end.

Water Forget-me-not, some grass and water cress are beginning to grow. How the beavers must be relieved to become aware of the return of Spring! The new growth is very dense and tight. Looking at it I was uncertain about identification.

Was a beaver responsible for this?

This looks more like water forget-me-not, or was I looking at speedwell?

Grey alder in the developing wetland. A wet strype runs through the woodland from the little pond to the bigger one downstream.

Roseanna and the Frog

A few days away and then back to a milder Perthshire, we missed Brian Taylor's Big Debate on Radio Scotland, but I have just listened to it on iPlayer.

I find Roseanna Cunningham's arguments increasingly thin. She claims to take the advice of scientists, but which I wonder, and haven't their arguments about the right sort of beaver and so forth been discredited? In the past she has spoken about democratic processes, but were these not covered by the Scott Porter public opinion survey work of 1998?

And then, as Roger Crofts (former Chief Executive Officer of SNH) pointed out at the Scottish Wildlife Trust talk in Edinburgh on Tuesday, 15th March, what other country has gone in for a 'trial' such as the one in Knapdale: a meaningless project from the point of view of finding things out about beavers that are not already known in the matter of the species's restoration to this country? None is the answer.

How would you carry out an 'exit' to the release of beavers in Knapdale when you had taken money from charitable organisations and persuaded thousands of school children of the necessity of the return of beaver? Imagine turning round and saying, 'Our project has failed, so we want rid of these beasts. The Norwegians don't want them back, so we are going to have to kill them.' How absurd!

I am glad there are beavers in Knapdale and wish them every success, but it would be good if their minders  allowed their charges some space and stopped treating the beavers as though they were in a zoo.

While we were away one of the sycamores that the beavers ring barked three or four years ago fell. 

There are a few marks of beavers' teeth to show that they have thought it worth trying the bark.

The fallen tree is leaning against another ring barked sycamore. This tree will fall over the dam near it. What will happen then?

This big frog jumped slowly across the path as I drove back from feeding the Burnieshed family of wild boar. It stopped by the side of the path and I was able to dismount and take some photographs of it.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Visit to the Wet Wood

Louise Ramsay09 March 11:47
The Writing on the Wood

I admire the graphic way you chop trees
to pencil points
and the ogham of your toothmarks
on fallen trunks. I note
the hieroglyphic of your foot printed
in soft mud by the pool.

Your dam is an alphabet of shapes
While runes, stripped white,
tell the story of your last meal.

Trout draw concentric circles
in the water’s glossy surface.
and a dipper dips
like pen into ink.

This landscape has beaver written all over it.

A front paw mark in the mud.

The eighty metre dam wanders about a bit. Here is a rather more than ninety degree turn.

This is the fifty metre dam. The high water levels of the winter have dropped somewhat to reveal the structure. In the   foreground you can see the fence straining post that has figure on this blog so often.

Hard to make out, but this dam runs for around eighty metres.

An email from George Fleming and some other thoughts

You never know who is reading your blog, so here is an email from George Fleming of Grange of Aberbothrie:

Morning Paul, Read your blog--and the Times. Like Ian Ivory, I have no intention of allowing a cull on my land, with any luck they have moved on and the problem with it. Your article is slightly misguided in the facts that it is not one tree , but several, and there is a lot more damage upstream. The burrowing is of more worry to me than being 'outraged ' at having to clear up debris--I do this every year even BB  --before beavers!I have grave doubts that the large burrows will fill up themselves--I hope I am proved wrong--. I totally understand your need to get the law in place to give power to relocate them to places more suitable and more acceptable--and in that I wish you luck. ps--I do not allow cattle to graze my banks, I use sheep which firm up the banks--perhaps that's why I have only had one breech in 30 years. There may well be a place for the beaver in Scotland, which is acceptable to the surrounding area, I do not think it is with me! I wish you and Louise well, and I am sure the powers that be will come up with some sort of compromise--that's the way of politics! Regards, George

So, here is a view of the bank of the River Isla on the Aberbothrie side. It is grazed by sheep, as George says,

but is still prone to collapse, which might be avoided if the bank was protected with riparian woodland. It has to be admitted, however, that the establishment of riparian woodland, where flooding is common, is an expensive and difficult business. 

The willows in this photograph, taken on the south bank of the Isla are trapping sediment, which would otherwise be washed downstream, eventually to be deposited and clog up gravels where salmon might breed.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Late Winter at the Bamff Ponds

March is late winter and, on a grey misty day, doubly so. I took a walk round the two ponds.

A surprising number of pairs of mallard took off at intervals as I walked along. The wild boar stampeded out of a muddy wallow, bellowing indignantly. This mass of dead willow looked like an ossuary, its neglected bones scattered around. 

You can see that there is still a skin of ice on the pond in the picture. Weeks of freeze by night, followed by thaw by day have left an enduring crust.

I was nearing this lodge when there was some turmoil on the water and a small beaver swam off down the canal that separates the two ponds. 

Perhaps it would return? I changed my camera lens to the 70/300 mm and waited. I became impatient after some minutes and took this photograph of the detritus in the canal. Masses of barked bits of birch and willow branch about six inches long (16cm).

I stood up and moved on quietly. About one hundred metres on, at the next drain outlet into the pond, there was a commotion of the water. There was the beaver, one of last year's kits. It was inattentive enough to allow me to get to within about ten metres of it and I took the following photographs as well as several others. I was surprised it did not seem to mind the clunk of my camera's shutter. Perhaps its desperation to feed made it lose its caution?

It was good to see this young animal so clearly and to watch it grasp the sticks of birch with forefeet.

Above all I was surprised at how small the beaver was. Kits weight around 450 grammes at birth and then put on a lot of weight through the summer, first on their mother's milk and then on vegetation, but it must be the case that they do not grow during the winter, particularly a hard winter. Spring finds them at much the same weight as they were the previous autumn.

Where is my copy of Müller-Schwarze and Lixing Sun's 'The Beaver: Natural History of a Wetlands' Engineer'? There is information about this sort of thing there.