Sunday, 15 July 2012


If there’s anything likely to make the Grumpy Ecologist un-grumpy it’s the Beaver.  The Beaver highlight of a three-day trip to north-east Scotland began by creeping knee-deep in water through a remote section of a nature reserve on a gloomy evening, with steady drizzle of course.  A Spotted Crake briefly whipped from a fantastically crakey marsh, a Marsh Harrier flew by, and then there it was: an initially unrecognised turd deposited in a super-highway of a path out of the water. Suddenly we were at Beaver-central; fallen trees, dragged branches, pathways and a possible lodge.  Fantastic!

The day had begun at the Loch of Strathbeg; at the UK’s largest dune loch.  A brief search along the Loch shore for Creeping Spearwort (or its hybrid with Lesser Spearwort) always looked likely to fail due to unseasonably high water levels but a summer plumaged Slavonian Grebe, 35 Goldeneye and a flyby Bonxie kept us happy. The rushy Low Ground in front of the visitor centre, now grazed by a herd of Koniks held a couple of hundred Curlew and a summering pair of Whooper Swan, while botanical interest was provided by Lesser Butterfly Orchid and the remarkably insignificant, but scarce, Mudwort.  After some hours looking at the management of the reserve, the drive south took us past the disgraceful Trump’s Folly and down to Blackdog for the scoter and Eider flocks harbouring Black Scoter and Surf Scoter. All paled into insignificance compared with the soon-to-be new addition to my British wildlife poo collection (the first since Wallaby on the IOM).

Now if any extinct animal should be returned to the UK, it is the Beaver (and then the Lynx).  However, potential introductions have become bogged down in ridiculous controversy and ‘fence-sitting’. Meanwhile, Beavers have done it for themselves, escaping from captivity on the River Tay and spreading out over recent years.  Why is the Beaver so important? Well, the Beaver is an ‘ecosystem engineer’; one of the few species that can significantly change the geomorphology and hydrology of the landscape.  In doing so, Beavers have been shown to increase habitat and species diversity at the landscape scale.  By the beginning of the 20th century, hunting had reduced the European populations of Beaver to a low ebb of some 1,000 individuals.  Then, as recognition of its qualities grew, re-introductions progressed across Europe, beginning in Sweden as long ago as 1922.  Over the last 80 years, Beavers have been reintroduced to 27 countries on mainland Europe, with the UK being one of the few exceptions. Despite this, Scottish Natural Heritage embarrassingly tried to remove the Tay freedom fighters.  More can be found out about the Tay Beavers here Let’s hope they are here to stay.

At Loch of Strathbeg: Koniks, Whooper and Mudwort.

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