It is common knowledge now that in May 2009 beavers were released at Knapdale Forest, in the heart of Argyll, as part of the Scottish Beaver Trial. The trial will run for five years and SNH co-ordinates the independent monitoring of the project which is managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS).
Less well known perhaps is the fact that beavers are also being monitored in Tayside by the Tayside Beaver Study Group. These are unlicensed beavers which are believed to have escaped from private collections, and a 2012 SNH survey indicated approximately 40 active beaver territories existed along the River Tay and its tributaries. A two-year monitoring project aims to gather information on the health and genetics of the population, monitor impacts on land use, and provide advice on mitigation methods.
SNH will report back to Scottish Government on both the Knapdale and Tayside experiences in May 2015. Thereafter government will decide on the future of wild beavers in Scotland.
Helen Dickinson runs the Tayside beaver project from SNH’s Battleby office and explains the challenges of monitoring these secretive animals.
“The bulk of my job,” explains Helen, “consists of monitoring beaver activity, talking to landowners affected by beaver activity, and organising the screening side of the project. We can offer advice to landowners who might be concerned about the impact of beavers on their land, document any impacts resulting from beaver activity and at the same time use their input to plot the beaver territory on our database and maps.
“We can offer advice to help mitigate against specific beaver activity if a landowner is concerned. Mitigation can include wrapping trees in protective wire mesh to installing flow control devices in beaver dams (in some circumstances) to limit flooding.
“Many of the beaver territories are on private estates and farm land, but there are some on public lands including nature reserves,” commented Helen. “The health and genetic screening programme requires live trapping beavers. Once captured they are taken to a veterinary centre where various samples are taken to be screened for native and non-native diseases. Screening is ongoing and full results will be published at the end of the project but all animals sampled so far have been in good body condition and appear healthy.”
The trapping is arguably the most labour-intensive part of Helen’s role. “Trapping can be tricky,” Helen reveals. “If a landowner is happy for us to trap we would initially use bait and camera traps to identify a site of regular activity. We would then bring in a trap and leave it unset with bait, to allow the beavers to get used to the trap. This can take a few weeks and once regular feeding is taking place then we will arrange to have a vet on standby. We can’t actually trap the beavers without a vet being available and the trap is checked every morning when it is set.
“It’s a two person job to remove a beaver from a trap. Roisin Campbell-Palmer from the RZSS coordinates all trapping work and is experienced with working with beavers. Once the beaver is removed it is taken straight to the veterinary centre to be anaesthetised then screened. However, normally the animal will be returned to its territory the same day.”
For Helen it’s an interesting job that she perhaps didn’t envisage when she began her environmental career with the RSPB before moving over to SWT. Monitoring a species that has escaped into Scotland’s countryside comes with several challenges particularly when that animal hasn’t been resident in Scotland for some 400 years !
Further information: The Tayside Beavers Study Group have an excellent website that contains a Frequently Asked Questions section as well as information Advice for Land Owners and Managers.
Find out more about the work of the Tayside Beaver Study Group at
And for more about The Scottish Beaver trial visit