Return of the beaver to the Scottish Highlands hailed as landmark conservation success

More than 400 years after being hunted to extinction the Eurasian Beaver is back in Scotland – for good.

Beaver at Loch of the Lowes

Photograph by: Ron WalshBeaver at Loch of the Lowes

Following a five year trial reintroduction at a specially selected site at Knapdale in Argyll the Scottish Government has announced that the beaver is to be once again formally recognised as a native species.

Conservationists claim beavers lived throughout Scotland until the 16th century but were hunted to extinction for their fur and a glandular oil secreted from the base of their tail. This oil was highly prized in medieval times for its medicinal properties in the treatment of headaches.

Campaigners who have been championing the cause for almost 20 years claim the animals will bring wider benefits, such as creating new wetlands that support a wide range of other species such as otters, water voles, fish and dragonflies; creating more diverse woodlands through naturally coppicing trees; and helping to regulate flooding and improve water quality.They also maintain that an increase in beavers will boost wildlife tourism in Scotland, helping to grow a sector that is already worth £127 million per year.

“Returning a keystone species to the wild for the first time in 400 years is a tremendous achievement for RZSS and our partners the Scottish Wildlife Trust,” said Barbara Smith, Chief Executive of RZSS.“We welcome the government’s commitment to the species both in Knapdale and further afield.

“Further release sites will need to be considered in the short- to medium-term if the species is to fully re-establish itself as part of the Scottish landscape,” said Ms Smith, adding that the establishment of a clear and comprehensive management plan, drawing upon best practice guidelines and bringing together stakeholders from across the conservation, land management and farming spectrum, needs to be a top priority ahead of the breeding season next spring.

Adult beaver at Knapdale

Photograph by: Steve GardnerAdult beaver at Knapdale

The Scottish Government’s announcement has been hailed as a major success story for conservation as the return of beavers to Scotland’s lochs and rivers is the first formal mammal reintroduction in UK history.

The project, a partnership between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, will now be allowed to reinforce the existing trial population in Knapdale, Argyll and support a second established population on the River Tay.

Jonathan Hughes, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “This is a major milestone for Scotland’s wildlife and the wider conservation movement. Beavers are one of the world’s best natural engineers. Their ability to create new wetlands and restore native woodland is remarkable and improves conditions for a wide range of species including dragonflies, otters and fish.

“The return of beavers also has great potential for education and wildlife tourism. We have already seen at Knapdale how their presence is a tremendous draw for visitors from all over the world, which in turn brings social and economic benefits to the rural economy.

“The Scottish Beaver Trial is a textbook example of how to approach the reintroduction of a keystone species that should set the standard for future projects.”