Beaver talk enjoyed at natural history society

Bjorna who originally came from Norway to breed in Argyll.

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Arran Natural History Society welcomed speaker Pete Creech on Thursday February 6.

Pete is the environmental interpretation officer at the Argyll Beaver Centre and gave an excellent talk on the Eurasian beaver reintroduction programme in Knapdale which started with the arrival of four beaver families from Norway in 2009, a total of 14 beavers, including Bjorna, who is now approximately 14 years old.

Another 28 beavers have been introduced between 2017-2020 including one named by local schoolchildren as Justin Beaver!  The Beaver centre is open from Sunday March 22 until Friday October 30 and there are weekly guided walks starting at 6.30am to look for the beavers. This would make an excellent short trip from Arran or a destination to move on to for tourists visiting Arran.

At the meeting there was great interest in the project and we learned many excellent beaver facts. Beavers are, of course, nature’s hard working engineers creating dams , canals and lodges, like the one created by Bjorna in the photograph. Through flooding areas they create completely new ecosystems and benefit many types of wildlife and natural vegetation .

The lodge shown is 4-5m across and 2-3 metres high with an underwater entrance. A beaver family will move to a new loch and create a new lodge every 2-3 years.

They will only move a very short distance away from water to collect food and their preference is for the leaves of aspen, willow, rowan and birch plus water lily leaves and roots, rushes and reeds and even bracken. In the winter they eat bark and they also like sweet potatoes as a boost to help them when first released.

Beavers are native to the UK and used to be widespread in England, Wales and Scotland but were wiped out here 400 years ago because of hunting for their pelts, used for coats and hats, their meat and ‘castoreum’, a secretion used in perfumes, food and medicine.

Beavers pairs produce one litter of around three kits each year. Although they are weaned at six weeks old, they stay with their family for around three years and do not survive if separated from the family group. Unlike otters they cannot survive in sea water except for a very short swim from one river mouth to the next.

In May 2019 the Scottish government declared them a native species and they are now  protected. It is illegal to interfere with the animals, their lodges and their dams. I’m sure that many of us at the talk will be looking forward to  making the trip to visit the beavers in 2020.

The next meeting society will on Thursday March 5 at the Brodick Castle rangers hut starting at 8 pm. The talk will be given by  Lindsay MacKinlay and is entitled: On the trail of Scotland’s wild plants, the adventures of a Scottish botanist. We look forward to welcoming Lindsay to Arran after her previous attempt last year to speak to the society was foiled by the weather and no ferry.

                                                                                                                          Charlotte Clough

Bjorna who originally came from Norway to breed in Argyll. NO_B07beaver01

Beaver footprints in the sand. NO_B07beaver02

Coille Bharr Lodge which was built by Bjorna.  NO_B07beaver03