Scotland is one of the wildest places in the UK, with mountains, lochs and woodland extending out for miles. It is where the first beaver reintroduction trial sites were established in the UK; where pine martens roam and osprey soar through the skies. Experiencing these areas allows you to believe that Lynx, elk and wolves could be reintroduced to these areas more successfully than in southern England, for example.
I visited Knapdale, the first official beaver trial site in Scotland. It is located in Forestry Commission land on the west coast of a large loch. The Beavers were first released in 2009 as four beaver families and their behaviour observed. The trial site is far away from residents and is mostly used by dog walkers now with few conflicts.
The site is still being managed whilst a decision on the future of beavers is awaited by Scottish Natural Heritage, a decision that has been delayed several times. Unlike the Devon Wildlife Trust trial site, the data collected was predominantly based on behaviour and genetics during the trial, with little data that can be used by our Biodiversity Quality Calculator.
Another beaver population has since become established on the River Tee in the east of the country. I spent several evenings in a hide on Loch of the Lowes, just down the road from my B&B, watching beavers patrolling their loch in the late evening, and was fascinated by them. This introduced population, however, was not a result of the official trial, and the beavers are currently co-existing close to houses and farms. As a result, more conflicts have arisen between beavers and local residents. This includes flooding of roads and bridges, and fallen trees on roads. Lodges and dams are located extremely close to roads, sometimes right next to them and only separated by fencing. Here, the impacts of beavers are managed through pipes installed within dams, to ensure that the flow continues, preventing flooding. This has been successful in reducing the conflict. In addition, measures such as paint and wire on mature trees can prevent them from being felled by a determined beaver! There are, however, still concerns with conflicts between wildlife and influential industries in Scotland, such as grouse shooting and salmon fishermen, which are yet to be addressed.
My trip included views of beavers, osprey, pine marten, puffins and sea birds. A whole array of wildlife that reinforced that wild areas can be created in the UK. Ecotourism is a developing business in Scotland, with wildlife drawing tourists in. But, rewilding in these areas will only work if reintroductions are thought out and management and mitigation can be integral to trial schemes, not reactive. If it is reactive then it causes conflict which is only going to lead to more friction between the conservationists and local residents.
I hope that a decision on the Scottish beavers is made soon so that we can see this amazing species reintroduced to the UK on a much larger scale, to improve biodiversity, water quality and flooding. And we can learn from Scotland to ensure that the appropriate mitigation, management and public engagement is integral to the reintroduction.