Beaver Q&A with Ollie, Rothiemurchus Head Ranger
Beaver Q&A with Ollie, Rothiemurchus Head Ranger
Conservation has always been part of Rothiemurchus – this was the first place ospreys chose to return to in the UK in the 1950s – and it remains so as opportunities and research advance. The rest of the Rothiemurchus team and I hope the beavers will actively manage and restore ecosystems to help us tackle the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.
Reintegrating beavers fits well with the work we’re already doing, such as peatland restoration and the natural regeneration of native woodland. It’s the next step. In 2024 we will be using cattle to improve the diversity of species in the forest. We hope beavers will do the same thing for our wetlands.
The decision to reintroduce beavers has been made at government level: it’s happening. By getting involved, we can support government policy and influence how the reintroduction develops.
The Beaver Trust carried out a feasibility study of potential beaver sites in the upper Spey catchment, and the area of land that’s been selected here was deemed one of the best places for them to start out. Beavers are herbivores. They eat mainly plants in the summer and tree bark in winter, but they dislike pine, so they will only eat that as a last resort. The selected site has a good variety of tree species, including birch and willow, plus aquatic plants.
We’re not the only ones giving beavers a new home in the upper Spey catchment area. Our land manager neighbors, Wildland Cairngorms and RSPB Scotland, are part of the same project. Find out more about beavers in the Cairngorms by visiting the National Park website.
The beavers were humanely trapped in the Tay catchment before being taken for veterinary screening to check they were in good health. We’ve been allocated a pair of beavers. The number of people present at the release was limited, to minimise any possible stress. The doors to the crate opened, and off they went!
We’re working with the Cairngorms National Park Authority, and their dedicated Beaver Project Manager, to unobtrusively support and monitor the new arrivals. To give the beavers the best chance of making Rothiemurchus their long-term home, we’ll all initially need to give them space and leave them undisturbed. That means being quiet and respectful around them, keeping dogs under close control and sticking to paths.
Once the beavers have settled in, we’ve got a few plans up our sleeve to help people learn more about beavers as a species – and the ones at Rothiemurchus in particular.
I think you’ll see lots of evidence of them quite quickly – things like gnawed trees and branches. They are crepuscular – meaning that they are most active at dawn and dusk – so people who are out at those times, like dog walkers, will more likely catch a sighting. We’re working with the Park Authority to put interpretation panels in place to provide information about them.
We are working with the Park Authority to provide visitors with information on being in the vicinity of beavers without disturbing them. The project’s success does rely on people sticking to maintained paths and keeping dogs under control. What many people appreciate about Rothiemurchus is the peace and quiet and the other wildlife species that live here.
Generally, beavers will take off at the sign of any threat, although they can be territorial around their lodge if they have kits. They don’t tend to stray too far from water, so they can slip back into it if panicked.
Both the beavers and their habitat will be closely monitored by the Park Authority’s Beaver Project Manager. This includes remote monitoring of water levels, using camera traps to directly monitor the beavers and mapping field signs of beaver activity.
The Rothiemurchus team will also play an important role by monitoring the changes beavers make. This work compliments our Forest Plan, which safeguards biological diversity – particularly when it comes to improving conditions for rare species that are threatened elsewhere.
As well as checking on the beavers’ health and what they’re getting up to, the beaver project manager has mitigation as part of his role. He’ll be out on the ground, dealing with any concerns. There’s also a national mitigation scheme run by NatureScot. People who live near rivers, and farmers with land adjacent to water courses, worry about the damage beavers could potentially do to flood banks by burrowing into them, so we’ll be watching out for that.
Seeing how the habitat will change. There are areas at Rothiemurchus that we’ve regenerated and have become forest, but they will be changing all over again. We should start to see coppiced trees that have been chopped down regrowing and more deadwood adjacent to water bodies.
As a keen fisher, I’m also excited about how the beavers will improve the wetlands around Rothiemurchus. Their presence should help create ‘nurseries’ for young fish. Brown trout, sea trout, salmon, pike, arctic char, eels, lamprey and minnow are all part of the Rothiemurchus ecosystem. They are essential prey for herons and otters and important predators for insect life, so anything the beavers can do to encourage them is excellent.
That they have a see-through third eyelid, which acts as a swimming goggle!