Beavers are Back

“I’m excited that Rothiemurchus has been selected as one of the initial reintroduction sites for Bringing Beavers Back to the Cairngorms project.” Ollie Mackay, Head Ranger

All about the beavers at Rothiemurchus

It has been 400 years since beavers lived in the waterways around the River Spey. But as of this week, these furry engineers are once again making a home for themselves at Rothiemurchus in line with Scotland’s Beaver Strategy (produced by NatureScot on behalf of the Scottish Government). Earlier this month NatureScot approved a five-year license for the Cairngorms National Park Authority to release up to 15 families of beaver into the upper Spey catchment. The Park Authority has been working with land managers – of which Rothiemurchus is one – and communities to take the project forward.

Our ranger team will help support the brand-new beavers, so we caught up with our head ranger, Ollie Mackay, to learn more about the project.

As with any animal adapting to new surroundings, it’s important to give our beavers time to settle in. That’s why, over the next few months, we’re asking our visitors to keep the following things in mind:

Beavers are back at Rothiemurchus

Beaver Q&A with Ollie, Rothiemurchus Head Ranger

Ollie Mackay, Head Ranger, Rothiemurchus

Hi Ollie, why did Rothiemurchus decide to get involved with reintroducing beavers in the Upper Spey catchment area?

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.

Why was Rothiemurchus chosen as one of the release sites?

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.

Beaver Release at Rothiemurchus in Cairngorms National Park

Where have the beavers come from, and how were they released?

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!

How can people help the beavers settle in?

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.

If someone is looking for signs of beavers, what should they look out for?

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.

Beaver signs to look out for

Will the presence of humans scare beavers away?

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.

What happens in the first weeks and months?

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.

What will the project team be looking out for with the monitoring?

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.

What are you most excited about?

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.

What is your favourite beaver fact?

That they have a see-through third eyelid, which acts as a swimming goggle!

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