Beavers are back in Scotland thanks to the hard work of the award-winning Scottish Beavers project, which RZSS is proud to be a part of. We’ve been working on the reintroduction of beavers to Scotland in partnership with the Scottish Wildlife Trust for over a decade; first as part of the Scottish Beaver Trial and now as part of the Scottish Beavers reinforcement project. As a result of this work, in May 2019, the Scottish Government granted beavers European Protected Species status, which means they are here to stay! This marks the first every successful reintroduction of a mammal to the UK, but the work doesn’t end there.
Beavers are ecosystem engineers that drastically alter the habitat they live in by constructing amazing dams, lodges, and canal and pond systems. They provide wetland habitat for numerous other native species, offering big boosts for British biodiversity. Unfortunately, beavers were hunted to extinction in the UK in the 16th century. In 2009 and 2010, the RZSS and Scottish Wildlife Trust, with the support of Forestry and Land Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, released 16 beavers from Norway into Knapdale Forest, Argyll, as part of the Scottish Beaver Trial. Following the success of the trial, we continue to monitor the Knapdale beaver population and assist with translocations of beavers from Tayside to Knapdale as part of the Scottish Beavers reinforcement.
The aim of the reinforcement is to boost the size and genetic diversity of the Knapdale population. Luckily, beavers in Tayside are from Bavarian genetic stock rather than Norwegian, so introducing them could add some important new genetic diversity. Thanks to the fact that we own two zoos and have an onsite genetics department, as well as our conservation field team, RZSS is uniquely placed to assist with this project. Our field team is responsible for monitoring the Knapdale population and newly released beavers, our vets conduct health checks on any beavers being moved from Tayside to Knapdale before they are released, and our Wildgenes conservation genetic team are working on the genetic management of this population to ensure it has a sustainable future (and help the field team answer other questions).
In 2019, the work and success of the Scottish Beavers Trial and Reinforcement was recognised by an RSPB Nature of Scotland award for Species Champions. This is all thanks to the amazing people from both partner organisations who have been involved in this project over the past decade. We continue to champion the cause of beavers in Scotland – keep an eye on our news pages and social media for ongoing updates on this project.