Quite why everyone has suddenly got excited about a report on beavers that was first published two years ago by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is a bit of a mystery.
Perhaps the Argyllshire beavers, reintroduced as yet another experiment in the “re-wilding” of Scotland, are feeling put upon in the face of criticism that such reintroductions are often governed by the law of unintended consequences. In the case of the beavers, that instead of staying put they will spread uncontrollably and start damming up salmon spawning waters.
The SNH report by Southampton University suggested – note the word suggested – that beavers and all their works may be good for salmon. After going through 108 pre-2010 articles about beavers, the scientists declared that rather more had been written in favour of the beaver/salmon relationship than against, though only nine of the articles referred to experiences with European beavers. The rest referred to North American beavers which are different, but not, we have to accept, that different.
The similarity is that they both build dams which block streams and rivers. There is little doubt that a nice deep pond will soon fill up with all sorts of biodiversified flora and creepie crawlies on which fish will thrive.
But what the Atlantic salmon likes is an abundance of fastish flowing shallow water, not a sluggish meandering pool. In particular adult salmon need to get upstream relatively unimpeded. There is not a river board or trust in Scotland that has not spent much of the past 15 years clearing obstructions on the head waters of our salmon rivers, with the blessing of SNH, in the belief that the easier you make it for a salmon to get to its spawning grounds the more likely it is to spawn.
I accept that Coho, Chinook, and all the rest of the North American salmon may thrive on the dam building endeavours of the local beaver population, but there is nothing to tell us that Atlantic salmon in Scotland will do the same. Neither is there likely to be any answer in the foreseeable future because the five year experiment in Argyll is in an area where there are no salmon rivers. Of course, there is a chance we shall learn something from the activities of the illegal escapee beavers on Tayside which have now been declared an official experiment since no one can catch them.
There is perhaps some consolation in the fact that beaver dams are a sure way of creating wetlands which with a bit of luck will soon be teeming with duck, snipe and pheasant for us all to shoot if there are no fish left to catch.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West