Know your friend – The Beaver

You won’t find any beaver jokes in Pest Control News because we are too dam professional for that.

On the 1st May it was announced that beavers are a protected species in Scotland. This instalment of ‘know your friend’ reminds readers about the reintroduction of beavers into Scotland, the biology behaviour and impacts of this non-target rodent species, including activities such as lethal control which require a licence.

Beavers and protection
A knowledge of protection when dealing with beavers is essential. It has been reported that new legislation to make Scotland’s beavers a European Protected Species has been welcomed by wildlife organisations. The protection now means that it is illegal to kill Eurasian beavers Castor fiber or destroy their established dams and lodges without a licence. The protection for beavers is an important legal step to allow them to expand their range, according to the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Inevitably there is some opposition from farming leaders regarding the impacts of dam-building by beavers, which can result in damage to agricultural land. From being reintroduced to Scotland’s waterways a decade ago, the current population has grown to approximately 450 beavers in Scotland (Tayside and mid-Argyll). Some local-scale negative impacts are that damming of watercourses can result in crops being destroyed. This is costing some farm businesses approximately £5,000 per year to counteract. The Scottish Wildlife Trust supports the view that land managers must have the ability to deal with localised negative impacts caused by beavers, although it is equally important to ensure lethal control is only used as a last resort.

Beavers – positive impacts
Reintroduced beavers can have a positive impact on the environment and biodiversity of an area. They can fell trees with their sharp, chisel-like teeth which they then drag into the water to construct dams and lodges.

  • Dams create wetlands that result in habitats for wildlife
  • Habitat creation benefits water voles, otters, dragonflies and amphibians
  • They coppice waterside trees and shrubs, letting in light to help plants grow and allowing the scrub to grow back as dense cover for birds and other animals
  • Beaver dams trap sediment, improve water quality, reduce the risk of flooding downstream, and increase cover for trout and salmon

Beaver habitat
Quite simple, the wetter the better when it comes to beavers. Their natural habitat is widely available in Scotland and includes broadleaved woodland next to standing waters or slow-moving streams.

Big beavers
The size of the Eurasian beaver is quite impressive. According to scottishbeavers.org.uk ‘approximately the size of a tubby spaniel (25–30 kg), measuring 70–100 cm in length. Unusually for mammals, the female beaver is the same size or larger than males of the same age. They are uniquely adapted for a semi-aquatic lifestyle, with a sleek waterproof coat, large flattened muscular tail and webbed hind feet to provide propulsion underwater.’

English beavers
In England, there is a small population of beavers on the River Otter in Devon, from either an unlicensed or accidental release. RSPB supported the Devon Wildlife Trust’s successful application to Natural England for this to become a licensed English trial reintroduction.

Beaver identification.
If you’ve never seen a beaver before you can do your own research on the internet. Alternatively, PCN has collected some key facts to help recognise a beaver face-to-face.

  • Beavers have dense, brown or even black fur
  • They are stocky animals with small ears and eyes
  • They have a characteristically flattened, broad and scaly tail

Beaver licence
To get your beaver licence, visit https://www.nature.scot/professionaladvice/ safeguarding-protected-areas-and-species/protected-species/ protected-species-z-guide/protected-species-beaver/management

Scottish Natural Heritage state the following regarding beavers and licensing: “simple management techniques to prevent beaver damage – like protecting trees or woodland or removing newly built (less than two-week-old) dams, won’t need to be licensed. However, other actions such as removal of more mature dams, manipulating dams or lethal control, can only be carried out under licence. Our guidance for land managers which forms part of the Management Framework describes what does and does not require a licence.”