18/06/2014
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Beavers benefit birds

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European Beavers, like this mother and kit in Tayside, Argyll, have been the subject of experimental reintroductions in recent years, but perhaps the time is right to expand the schemes.Photo: Ray Scott (commons.wikimedia.org).
European Beavers, like this mother and kit in Tayside, Argyll, have been the subject of experimental reintroductions in recent years, but perhaps the time is right to expand the schemes.Photo: Ray Scott (commons.wikimedia.org).
RSPB Scotland has announced its support of further managed reintroductions of European Beaver, now the ecological benefits of the species have become more apparent.

The society has expressed its support for further managed reintroductions of European Beavers following the conclusion of the Scottish Beaver Trial, run by Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, in Knapdale Forest, Argyll, last month. The charity is urging the Scottish government to pave the way for further releases to see the species established in suitable areas of the Scottish countryside. 

Ministers are due to determine the fate of beavers in Scotland by May 2015, at which point they will decide whether to allow further licensed reintroductions, allow the present beavers to remain but allow no further reintroductions, or remove all beavers from Scotland. Once widespread throughout Britain, beavers became extinct in the 16th century, primarily due to hunting for its pelt, meat and perceived medicinal properties.

A recent YouGov poll commissioned by Scottish Beaver Trial partners suggests the public would like to see beavers back in the countryside, with 60 per cent of respondents backing the reintroductions.

Considered a ‘keystone’ species in forest, river and loch-side environments, beavers have a significant and positive impact on ecosystem health and function. As strict herbivores, they consume a diet of aquatic plants, grasses and shrubs during the summer months and woody plants over winter. In woodland environments, beavers help to stimulate new growth by coppicing trees and opening up the forest structure. This can help boost the biodiversity of an area and benefit other species including European Otters, Water shrews, Water Voles, birds such as duck, Osprey, Grey Heron and Kingfisher, breeding fish and invertebrates including dragonflies.

In addition to improving the variety of plants and animals found in an area, the reintroduction of European Beaver may also benefit rural economies via ecotourism, as has happened on the Isle of Mull following reintroductions of White-tailed Eagle.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland's Head of Species and Land Management, said: “Beavers are incredible mammals that have an important role to play in our countryside.  Thanks to the excellent work of the Scottish Beaver Trial we now have a comprehensive understanding of how beavers can thrive in Scottish ecosystems and there is no reason why this cannot be repeated in other areas of Scotland.

“RSPB Scotland would like to play a role in bringing the species back across Scotland, including on our reserves, and we are keen to work with other stakeholders to explore where and how this can be done. We urge the Scottish government to make way for further projects to bring this remarkable species back to our countryside.”
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