by Harvey Smart
Photos by Katie Kennedy & courtesy of the Beaver Trust
Loch Lomond has once again become home to a species which has been absent from the area for nearly 400 years.
Early this year a family of beavers was introduced into the Aber Burn, a water way in Gartocharn.
Although they may seem exotic to us now, beavers used to be native to Scotland until hunted to extinction for their fur, meat and ‘castoreum’, a gland secretion once used in perfumes, medicines and, oddly enough, as food flavouring.
This will be the third translocation of beavers to a new area since they were first re-introduced to Scotland in 2009.
Recent population surveys estimate their numbers have grown to over a thousand since then.
The RSPB, which is leading the rehoming effort on the Loch, expects the new residents to have a significant positive impact on their environment.
However, they can create friction when living alongside their human neighbours, as was the case with this particular furry family which has been relocated from Tayside.
The alternative was either for them to move to England and out of the Scottish population, or to be shot and killed for encroaching on agricultural land.
Benefits For Landscapes
Jay Cowen, a residential volunteer at RSPB Scotland Loch Lomond nature reserve in Gartocharn, explained why beavers’ dam building behaviour can benefit our local landscape.
“There’s been some conflict on farmland where their activities can cause crops and land to be flooded.
“They’re much better suited to somewhere like here, where we are trying to restore wetlands.
“Beavers create wetland areas to hold back water, which leads to better water quality and conditions for invertebrates, these in turn support wetland species such as wading birds and ducks.”
Jay is one of 12,000 RSPB volunteers, without whom projects such as this would not be possible.
And there’s plenty to do – whether working in one of their hubs, directing and informing the public, or getting out on the reserves and getting your hands dirty.
“The practical side, my favourite of course, we go out as a big group of volunteers and do whatever needs doing, whether that’s picking up litter, managing hedgerows or helping maintain fencing,” Jay said.
“Recently the volunteers have been helping to prevent Oak woodland, a vital habitat of which there is not a lot left, from being overrun by faster growing Beech trees.”
There are also residential volunteering opportunities with RSPB, which involves working full time on the reserve, accommodation provided.
It’s an excellent way for people like Jay, a recent graduate of Aberystwyth University with a degree in Zoology, to prove themselves before entering the job market.
“I’d been looking for residential volunteering opportunities to get more experience before trying to find a paid job.
“Loch Lomond offers some really great habitats, it seemed a really solid place to see so many things I’d never seen before,” Jay added.
But even despite all the efforts of volunteers and staff working hard to help the beavers settle into their new home, they’re still facing challenges.
In February, barely a month after their translocation, the RSPB announced that two of the young beavers (called kits), had been killed by an otter.
This is a blow to the project, but hopefully it won’t be long before their numbers are replenished, as beavers typically breed once a year, producing three to four kits at a time.
When mature these beavers will then leave home, drawn to the sound of running water on which to build their own lodges and start the cycle again!
Although they have the potential to cause issues, when properly managed, these animals can create a massive positive ripple effect in an ecosystem, creating vital habitats once integral to our landscape that we have been sorely lacking for centuries.
If you want to see RSPB Loch Lomond’s new residents, unfortunately your chances are slim, as they are usually only active at night.
However, if you visit the reserve you will learn plenty about them from the trivia boards dotted along the trail.
You might even see signs of the beavers, including bits of chewed wood and bark, unmistakable when you know what to look for!
There are also plenty of other interesting creatures to see, including red squirrels, all manner of smaller birds, geese, woodpeckers and occasionally an eagle or osprey!
Like what you read in Clydesider magazine? Then become a Clydesider member and help keep Clydesider free for all to enjoy from just £3 per month.