Reintroduction of the beaver

into Welsh waters

Gwynfor Jones and Lynn Hughes represented WSTAAs angling interests at a seminar in Newtown on July 25 to and learn about proposals to reintroduce (under controlled conditions) European beaver to selected sites in Wales. One of the oldest animal species, beaver were an essential part of the fauna of Britain until hunted to extinction for fur, food and the medical properties of their scent-glands (castoreum – discovered to be salicylic acid from willow bark ie. Asprin), somewhere between the 12th and 16th centuries. Giraldus Cambrensis gives a vivid account of beavers on the Teify in the late 12th century [and the 14th century Teify poet Dafydd ap Gwilyms rude but vivid description of his mistresss hirsuit husband as having a face like a beavers arse, has an authentic first-hand-observation ring to it!] Beavers are benign vegetarians (overgrown water voles), renowned for their hydro-engineering genius. The European beaver (castor fiber) is not so adept at building dams or so inclined to construct elaborate lodges as the North American species. They tend to burrow, and generally prefer still waters to spate rivers. They must have a constant depth of >3m for security. Their main food is twigs, leaves and tree bark. THEY DO NOT EAT FISH. The re-introduction where feasible of extinct species is an obligation placed upon national governments by a European Habitats Directive (1984), with which all countries saving Portugal, Italy and GB have complied. [England and Scotland already have private introductions, and Scotland is dithering over a major re-introduction scheme sponsored by Scottish National Heritage]. A wetlands survey, soon to be published in Wales by CCW, will point to locations considered suitable for trial introductions. These will be places where interaction with farming, forestry or recreational activities is at a minimum. Those with experience of living with beavers confirm that there is very little conflict with angling. Beavers are excellent habitat restorers (and maintainers). It is as an environment restoration tool that they qualify for their immigration ticket! Salmon, trout and beavers have lived in harmony together for millions of years. The benefits to animal-watch tourism have been considerable wherever introductions have been made. Poland in particular has based an industry on beaver-watching. [They are crepuscular creatures, so overnight stays are obligatory!] Where they do prove troublesome, exit strategies with chain-saw and landing net could not be simpler!