Gwynfor Jones and Lynn Hughes represented WSTAA’s angling interests at a seminar in Newtown on July 25, 2005, to learn about proposals to reintroduce (under controlled conditions) European beaver to selected sites in Wales

Gwynfor Jones and Lynn Hughes represented WSTAA’s angling interests at a seminar in Newtown on July 25, 2005, to learn about proposals to reintroduce (under controlled conditions) European beaver to selected sites in Wales.

European BeaverA follow-up meeting at the Brecon Wildlife Trust HQ on the 26 May, 2006, indicated progress towards the formation of a steering committee. One of creation’s oldest animal species, beaver were an essential part of the fauna of Britain until hunted to extinction sometime in the late middle ages. Trapped for fur, food and the medical properties of the scent-gland, castoreum – discovered to be salicylic acid from willow bark (which is, of course, the main constituent of Asprin), the beaver had no natural enemies after the wolf, except man.

Giraldus Cambrensis gives a vibrant, though hearsay, account of beavers on the Teify in the late 12th century; and, a hundred years later, the poet Dafydd ap Gwilym’s rude description of his mistress’s hirsute husband as having ‘a face like a beaver’s arse’, has an authentic ring to it! Beavers are basically overgrown water voles, renowned for their civil- and hydro-engineering genius, they are peaceable animals, and benign vegetarians.

The Institute of Brain Research at the university of Berne has made a special study of the beaver’s intelligence which focuses on ingenious management of the water environment. The European beaver (castor fiber) is not so adept at building dams or so inclined to construct elaborate lodges as the North American species. Castor fiber 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 or flesh.

he re-introduction ‘where feasible’ of extinct species is an obligation placed upon national governments by a European Habitats Directive (1984), with which all member countries saving Portugal, Italy and GB have fully complied. Private introductions have already taken place in England, 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 such as angling 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 beaver introductions have been made. Poland in particular has based an industry on beaver-watching. As, like otters, they are crepuscular creatures, overnight stays for watchers are obligatory! Where they do prove troublesome, ‘exit strategies’ with chain-saw and landing net could not be simpler! Lynn Hughes (Conservation secretary WSTAA)