During our mid-term conference, Ellie Corsie gave a presentation on the current situation for beavers in Scotland and their effect on the environment.
In May 2008, the first trial reintroduction of Eurasian beavers to the Knapdale forest in Argyll was given the green light. The monitoring phase of the project is now over, the final report has been published and as of 2015, the decision on whether to allow widespread reintroductions rests with the Scottish Government.
The reasons she listed for the reintroduction of beavers can be divided into two categories: Benefits they provide to the ecosystem and beneficial services they can provide for humans.
Beavers are ecosystem architects that create a diversity of habitats such as pools and meadows benefitting a wide range of species from birds to amphibians and even some mammals! These knock-on positive effects provide, in my opinion, the strongest support for beaver reintroduction because they show that the bigger picture is about so much more than just the beavers themselves. Beaver dams are also known to improve water quality by filtering out sediment and pollutants and can help to prevent flooding downstream, creating a more stable, supportive environment both for themselves and surrounding species.
The Scottish Beaver Trial (SBT) in Knapdale generated a considerable amount of tourist interest throughout its duration providing a boost in revenue for local businesses. The knock-on beneficial effects to other wildlife in beaver-occupied areas could also lead to the creation of new wildlife hotspots, further increasing the incentive for visitation:
“I welcome the return of beavers to Knapdale. Beavers are fascinating creatures famed for their industrious habits, and their arrival to Knapdale is certainly creating a booming industry for local businesses.”
– Local businessman Darren Dobson, owner of the Cairnbaan Hotel
The high influx of visitors also created an excellent opportunity for educating the public. The SBT fully capitalised on this with a variety of lectures, educational walks and events open to the public. Informing tourists at a local scale about the ecology and importance of beavers in the British Isles and also at a wider scale about the value of species reintroduction in general. In a society that is growing increasingly out of touch with nature this can only be a good thing. High-impact events such as species reintroduction can really spark interest in conservation, an interest that is going to be in high demand in the near future.
The proposed reasons against beaver reintroduction revolve around the destruction of trees, damage to human infrastructure and negative impacts on fish populations. However, in all of these cases, targeted management schemes such as electric fencing to prevent access to commercial plantations and the removal of small sections of beaver dams to allow the migration of fish will greatly reduce any potential detrimental effects.
Overall, I find myself coming to the same conclusion as Ellie. Beavers are awesome and the ecosystem functions they provide tower above the potential consequences of their reintroduction. So if the Scottish government happens to come across this blog, I have to say: Bring back the beavers!
By William Johnston