Our boglands slowly release the water held within the masses of sphagnum; the water comes together in burns flowing down towards the sea, never far away. In some areas there are a few miles of low-lying ground and it is at such a place that the Scottish Beaver Trial took place: in North Knapdale beside the sheltered shore of Loch Sween.
These were “official” beavers (many more – the result of unofficial releases/escapes – are to be found in the Tay catchment). Carefully monitored over a number of years, when the trial came to the end the Scottish Government gave them permission to stay, so now we have a small but thriving population in our bioregion.
Much has been written about the need to restore our river habitats, damaged through being artificially straightened and through the all-important riverbank trees being cut down.
Instead of spending millions to bring in diggers and cut new, meandering channels, ponds and spillways, we have, in the beaver, a supreme ecosystem engineer who will do the job for us and prevent flooding downstream through the creation of ponds, lochans and channels using soft, permeable barriers such as stick dams.
There is one catch, however. The beaver requires native trees to feed on. In Scotland, as in Wales, we have been replacing our natives with conifers, sitka spruce in particular, which does well on our wet, humid west coast. The beaver is not interested in sitka.
We have a fantastic rewilding opportunity here. Yet, instead of actively creating suitable habitat for them, the Scottish Government is still saying yes to the mass planting of sitka to replace extensive areas that were planted up in the 70’s and 80’s.
Today, at least, a proportion of broadleaves must now be planted alongside the sitka, but to my mind the priorities are wrong. Instead of focussing solely on keeping the Scottish timber industry going, we should also be planning for massive rewilding right across the Highlands.
This is how we will make a world-class contribution to combatting climate change and increasing (not just maintaining) our fantastic biodiversity. The beaver, being a keystone species, has a vital part to play in this.