Origins of the Tay Beavers
It has become apparent from a number of press releases, appearing on the websites of other organisations and from articles in the press, that some people seem to be convinced that the Tay beavers originated with an intentional release, or possibly more than one intentional release.
Although we can understand why people may think this, the surprising fact is that the original beavers escaped from captivity by accident, 11 and 8 years ago and bred and spread through the catchment by their own enterprise. Beavers can travel great distances by water, so the fact that they are now very widespread is not surprising. So far as we know the majority of the population was born in the wild, and the size of the population is compatible with the number of original escapes and breeding rates.
There are also several reports from good sources of beavers having been seen in the lower Earn 14 and 15 years ago. If this is the case, no-one now knows how these beavers got there.
Although it may be true to say that allowing escapes of captive animals is illegal, it is something that happened many years ago, and was not in any way intentional so the level of anger that is expressed is perhaps disproportionate. In the case of the escape of 11 years ago, we understand that someone just forgot to turn on the electric fence after leaving feed for the animals. The fact that many people, including some of those who keep beavers, have greatly welcomed the presence of these animals does not mean that they released them in the first place.
The reason for welcoming them, and not wishing to see them killed, is that, unlike nearly all zoo escapes, Castor fiber is a native species, and a highly beneficial one at that. Beavers make species rich wetlands, and the chance to restore species rich wetlands to the UK is like a chance to put fish back into the Atlantic or restore areas of rainforest to Brazil.
SWBG understands that if people have been told that the population was intentionally established by criminal releases, they may feel less well disposed towards the animals than if, for example, the animals had swum here by themselves.
However, we hope that once people understand that the beavers did arrive by accident, they will share our desire to give them a chance to demonstrate that they can bring many benefits to Scotland just as they have benefited 22 other European countries, and just as their cousins Castor canadensis bring many benefits in North America.
That is not to say that they don’t sometimes come into conflict with human landuse, but in the other countries where beavers exist, solutions have been developed for all the of the kinds of conflict that can occur. We are keen to see the same happen here.
In 1998 a survey by SNH http://www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/research/121.pdf demonstrated that 90% of the active public and 63% of the passive public were in favour of beaver reintroduction. Now that the beavers have found their way into Tayside by accident, the least we can do is to study them and otherwise leave them to their own devices.
After all, our ancestors accidentally eliminated them from the British Isles because they were such a valuable resource. Thank goodness the government is not going to wipe them out again, now that they have returned.
The beavers themselves are neither feral, illegal nor criminal. They are native animals back in their old range. Let’s hope no one else will risk getting embroiled in the very complex matter of beaver legalities and rouse the passion of public opinion by attempting a free enterprise cull.