Name: European Beaver (Castor fiber)
Where to see: Loch Coille Bhar, Knapdale Forest, West Argyll.
When to see: Spring, Summer, Autumn
Beavers are a keystone species – a species which affects the survival and abundance of other wildlife in the community in which it lives.
Slightly bigger than their North American cousins, they generally measure 70 – 100cm, weigh around 25kg and live for 10 – 15 years. They have a large flat tail, webbed hind feet and a waterproof coat, which equips them well for their semi-aquatic lifestyle.
Beavers are well known for their construction skills, and build, with some precision, dams which flood an area, providing a large enough pond in which to build a lodge dwelling. They are generally most active at dawn and dusk and don’t hibernate in winter.
Forestry Commission Scotland is working closely with the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland on a 5-year trial to assess the possibility of re-introducing European beaver to Scotland. Further information about the trial is at: www.scottishbeavers.org.uk.
Beavers live mainly in freshwater lochs and slow-moving rivers. They create ponds or adapt small lochs, through damming. This slows the rate of water flow, which in turn stimulates the growth of aquatic and semi-aquatic vegetation, providing them with a valuable food source.
After a dam has been constructed and floods a suitable area, beavers will create a lodge dwelling in which they shelter and rear their young.
Their felling or coppicing of small trees can improve habitats for other flora and fauna through increased deadwood, woodland reinvigoration and improved woodland sunlight, which stimulates ground vegetation.
Pond building also lowers the effect of acidification in the water and in turn helps to attract other species including frogs, toads, water voles, otters, dragonflies, birds and fish.
Beavers mate for life and breed from the age of two, producing a litter of two to three kits in late spring each year. They are highly territorial and live in family groups with the young of that year and sometimes the young of the previous year.
Young generally remain with their parents until they are sexually mature at two years old and are then chased off by their parents to encourage them to seek their own territories.
Beavers are vegetarian, preferring mainly aquatic plants, grasses and shrubs during summer months and woody plants in winter.
Winter food is sometimes stored underwater in case the pond freezes over but can also be stored on the water, which, with a layer of snow, prevents the pond from freezing.
Beavers in Scotland have no natural predators. The biggest threat to their survival comes from humans. Indeed, the species was hunted to extinction in Scotland in the 16th Century. This was for their fur and a gland secretion with possible medicinal and perfume qualities.
2010 saw the first two beaver kits to be born in Scotland in 300 years, as part of the Scottish Beaver Trial.