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Scotland welcomes back the beaver

The Scottish Beaver Trial (SBT), a partnership project run by Wild Scotland member, Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and host partner Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), officially begins today as the first beavers to live in Scotland for over 400 years are released into the wild.  

Marking the first formal reintroduction of a native mammal species into the wild in the UK, three beaver families have now been released at carefully selected sites in Knapdale Forest, Mid-Argyll.  The beavers, originally from Norway, have been chosen because they are considered to be the closest type to those once found in the UK and have all completed a six-month statutory quarantine period.    

Minister for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, arrived at the trial site this morning to show her support for the landmark project, and assisted with the release of one of the family groups.

Roseanna Cunningham said:  “Welcoming beavers back to Scotland marks a historic day for conservation. 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.

“And while a great deal of research has already gone into the reintroduction this work is far from over. Observations and data collection over the next five years will play a crucial role in assessing the long term future for beavers in the Scottish landscape.”

The release is for a time-limited trial period and comes after years of lobbying by ecologists and conservation experts who believe that the beaver has been a missing part of our wetland eco-systems since being hunted to extinction in the 16th Century.  The trial is mostly funded thanks to private donations and grants, including up to £1 million from Biffaward and support from People’s Postcode Lottery and People’s Trust for Endangered Species.     

Allan Bantick, Chairman of SWT and Chair of the Scottish Beaver Trial partnership, said:  “The release of the beavers today means that we are one step closer to rebuilding the natural biodiversity of Scotland.  Beavers are a native species made extinct by man and we are hoping that our trial reintroduction is a step towards seeing this corrected.  Beavers are a species worth having in any ecosystem as their presence is known to bring a vast number of benefits to other native Scottish wildlife as well as wetland and waterside habitats.  Our reintroduction follows in the footsteps of 24 other European countries, who have already reintroduced beavers to over 150 different sites.    

“Our critics’ worry that beavers might pose a risk to migratory fish numbers, including salmon.  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.  Our beavers will be released within a designated trial area, which should be large enough to sustain the natural expansion of their population over the next five years.   

“It is vital that our project is recognised as a time-limited trial with the purpose of assessing the effect beavers have on the local environment and how well they settle into their new habitat here in Scotland.“

Scottish Beaver Trial Project Manager, Simon Jones, said:  “The release of the beaver families went extremely well. They were placed into purpose-built artificial lodges at carefully selected points around the trial site. They will now gradually gnaw their way out of the lodge at a pace that is comfortable for them before exploring their new surroundings.  

“Now that our beavers have been released into the wild, the real work of our trial can begin.  First and foremost, this is a scientific study of how the beavers cope naturally in the Scottish environment and what effect they have upon it. We will be closely tracking the beavers’ activities and collecting data over the next five years to help inform the independent scientific monitoring, co-ordinated by Scottish Natural Heritage.  This will help the Scottish Government in making any final decisions on the future of beavers in Knapdale Forest or elsewhere in Scotland.

“We will also be continuing to engage with the local community as well as trying to inspire Scots to support this exciting conservation project.  We hope to see many people visiting the trial site over time, but the beavers do need time to settle in before meeting the neighbours.

“Visitors will stand a better chance of seeing beaver signs, and maybe even some beavers, by waiting a few months to make their trip to the trial site.  By timing your visit in the early morning or early evening, you will have the best chance of spotting these intriguing animals in the wild.”  

FCS is the host partner of the Scottish Beaver Trial and believes that Knapdale Forest is an ideal location to carry out the project as it covers a range of important habitats and biodiversity.  The trial area is also in the heart of a forest which produces timber and provides recreational facilities for people, making it a suitable place to explore how beavers co-exist with forestry operations and the environment.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is the independent body tasked by the Scottish Government to co-ordinate the scientific monitoring of the trial.  SNH will report to the Scottish Government at the end of the trial period and a decision can then be made on the future of the beavers in Knapdale Forest and elsewhere in Scotland.

The Scottish Government approved a licence for the release of the beaver families in Knapdale Forest in May 2008, following a two-month long public consultation which showed that 73% of respondents were in favour of the trial. The Scottish Beaver Trial is part of the Species Action Framework.

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