May 29, 2009

Beavers Return To Scotland

Beavers are once again living in Scotland after more than 400 years of absence thanks to the Scottish Beaver Trial in Knapdale Forest.

The SBT combined efforts from the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

A total of 11 beavers have been introduced to "purpose-built artificial lodges at carefully selected points around the trial site," according to project manager Simon Jones.

"They will now gradually gnaw their way out of the lodge at a pace that is comfortable for them before exploring their new surroundings."

The goal of the project is to determine how well beavers can live naturally in the Scottish environment.

"We will be closely tracking the beavers' activities and collecting data over the next five years to help inform the independent scientific monitoring," said Jones.

"This will help the Scottish Government in making any final decisions on the future of beavers in Knapdale Forest or elsewhere in Scotland."

The three beaver families originally came from Norway. They spent six months in quarantine in Devon before being released into the carefully monitored environment.

"Welcoming beavers back to Scotland marks a historic day for conservation," said Roseanna Cunningham, Scotland's Minister for the environment.

"These charismatic creatures are not only likely to create interest in Scotland from further afield but, crucially, can play a key role in providing good habitat for a wide range of wetland species."

But the beaver's return is not welcomed by everyone. Members of the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards have voiced opposition to the trial.

"Beavers are designed to dam streams," said Hugh Campbell-Adamson of the Association.

"If their dams impede fish migration and thus access to the maximum amount of spawning habitat (and the available literature is conclusive that they do), then surely it is recklessly irresponsible to release them into the Scottish countryside."

Alan Kettlewhite, a biologist with Argyll Fisheries Trust, said: "potentially they can alter the habitats of fish, restricting access to spawning grounds."

"I think the concerns are based on studies in other countries where sometimes dam-building can prevent fish access to their spawning grounds, particularly in dry years where you don't get much rain in the autumn time," he told BBC News.

"Our critics worry that beavers might pose a risk to migratory fish numbers, including salmon," said Allan Bantick, who chairs the Scottish Beaver Trial.

"This has not been found to be the case anywhere else in Europe.

"However, the notion cannot be tested with this trial because there is no Atlantic salmon present in the trial site.


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