Friday, 11 February 2011

Save the beavers of the Tay river

There are beavers living wild in Scotland. Not the few that have been released in the controlled programme in Knapdale (great though that is), but a completely seperate group living wild and free in the Tay River system. These beavers are of unkown provenance but have probably been released by activists or have escaped from farms or collections.

The bottom line is that they have been living wild and free for almost ten years and are breeding. By all accounts they are European beavers - a native species. We should welcome their return. Instead Scottish Natural Heritage are planning to capture them and put them in the zoo. The reasons? Apparently the animals are not part of an official programme, may be the wrong genetic type and there is no welfare plan. Strange reasons indeed.

In the first instance, while it is regrettable that the beavers were not released as part of an official programme, the fact that they have successfully established themselves and caused no damage to the river system (although what damage they could cause I am not clear about) is an excellent thing, achieved at minimal cost to the Scottish or UK Governments. The animals have lived freely for many years, surely fulfilling any quarantine requirements. These are a native species, one which we are both obliged to return to our landscape and that we should be happy to see.

The idea that there is no welfare plan for these animals is absurd. Are welfare plans usually established for wild animals? If that is the case I would be interested to see the weasel welfare plan for the region. Similarly, since these animals have lived freely for years, and in some cases have been born wild, surely capturing them and placing them in zoos is the greater welfare issue.

Finally the suggestion that these beavers are the wrong genetic ‘type’, is to my mind a product of bureaucratic biological thinking. Species are not definitive and sub-species and type or race even less so. Assuming these animals are European beavers (as they are reported to be), they are the same sub-species as those released in Knapdale. The fact that they may be Bavarian type as opposed to Norwegian is of little interest. The beavers cannot tell the difference and will happily breed. We cannot tell the difference without genetic tests. Put simply – they look like European beavers, they act like European beavers and will over time breed and evolve to form a uniquely British form of beaver in any case. In any case, Bavarian beavers have already been introduced to enclosures in England and so are present on this island.

Rather than pressure SNH to recapture healthy wild animals from one part of the country, while we are attempting to reintroduce them at great expense in another, we should be fully supportive of the beavers in both Knapdale and Tay, and should implement a programme to monitor and protect them. Or we could simply leave them alone and let them get on with their lives. We should not be caving in to the prejudices of landowners and salmon farming interests, or giving in to humankind’s depressing desire to control every aspect of our natural world.

Show your support for these animals and join the Facebook page.

Or read this article in the local paper.

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