Monday, 29 April 2013

Surprise – Beavers fell trees near the water’s edge - £2 million well spent

SNH publishes new report on the effect of Argyll beavers on woodland 

April 2013. The latest report on the effect of beavers on woodland has been published by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), part of the ongoing monitoring work on the Scottish Beaver Trial. 

A group of European beavers was reintroduced to Knapdale forest near Lochgilphead in 2009. The five year scientific trial is run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, on land managed by Forestry Commission Scotland. Since their release, SNH has been closely monitoring the beavers, and their effects on the environment, in partnership with a number of other independent organisations. At the end of the trial, the results of the monitoring work will help the Scottish Government decide on the longer term future of beavers in Scotland. 

The woodland monitoring has been carried out by the James Hutton Institute, who regularly survey 105 vegetation plots that are located around the edges of the lochs where the beavers live and are most active. In November 2011, two and a half years after their release, 13% of trees in the plots were showing signs of beaver activity. Most of these had either been gnawed or felled. As well as feeding on bark, twigs, shoots and leaves, the beavers store felled trees and branches underwater for food in the winter and use them to build their lodges and dams.

Most beaver activity happens near the shore 

Between November 2010 and November 2011, there has been a minor shift in beaver activity to areas further from the waters edge, but the majority (72%) is still within 10 metres of the loch shores. The most intensive gnawing and felling was within 500 metres of active beaver lodges. 

Beavers prefer small trees
The beavers continued to favour trees that were 3-6cm across, although they sometimes felled much bigger trees. So far the results show that the beavers have a strong preference for willow and rowan, and tend to avoid hazel and alder. Other trees in the area are used in proportion to their availability - birch is most often used by beavers but this is because it is the most commonly found tree in the survey area. 

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