They were just beavering away - now Bridge of Earn Two are on run
A FAMILY of beavers who set up home in rural Perthshire are to be hunted down and thrown into captivity after being declared animal outlaws.
The search for the big-toothed vegetarians, which have been quietly living on an island in a fishery loch for more than three months, is set to begin within days.
But last night it looked like the animals might have already outwitted their human pursuers, after experts said they appeared to have deserted their lodge and gone on the run.
Officially regarded as either "lost property" or "evidence", the beavers - it is thought there is one adult pair - have not themselves committed a crime, but as alien species their release into the wild was a criminal act.
Catching the escapees may not be easy. One source involved in the process told The Scotsman: "The Scottish Executive are jumping up and down, saying you must trap them, even to the extent of digging them up.
"They aren't aware of how these things work. It took ten days to trap some beavers who were living in captivity.
"I cannot see them being easy to trap and they may have off-spring, which would make it more difficult."
The first evidence of the beavers' presence came from the trademark teeth marks on felled trees. They have never been photographed and, as they are largely nocturnal, are difficult to spot.
However, it is possible the beavers have already left the Sandyknowes Fishery, near Bridge of Earn, after the loch there was drained to help clear weeds. No new trees have been felled for some time.
Paul Ramsay, who keeps captive beavers in a large enclosure on his Bamff Estate near Alyth, said he had visited Sandyknowes Fishery recently and seen no sign of beaver activity.
"I saw trees that had been cut, but there was nothing fresh," he said. "The [fishery] loch was emptied in December or January in order to kill the weeds and that exposed the entrance to their lodge.
"One of the main things beavers like is to have the entrance to their lodge under water. If you are a beaver and you are anxious about predators - whether it's humans, wolves or bears - it's nice to go underwater and swim in. I should have thought they might easily think of pushing off.
"To be totally exposed like that in a way beavers have never accepted ... in their shoes, I would be wondering if this was a nice place to be."
Mr Ramsay, who is still trying to catch a captive beaver that escaped from his pen and cut down some apple trees in a nearby orchard, said he hoped the "Bridge of Earn Two" would escape the "ridiculous" attempt to seize them.
He said numerous European countries had reintroduced the beaver and welcomed their beneficial effort on flood control - their dams slow down the release of water downstream - and biodiversity.
Beavers were hunted to extinction in Scotland about 400 years ago and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) wants to re-introduce the species in a controlled way. The Executive is considering a second such proposal after rejecting an earlier SNH plan.
An Executive spokeswoman confirmed the order to capture the rogue beavers had been issued.
"These animals have escaped from some unknown location and, as such, represent an illegal introduction into the Scottish countryside," she said.
"The Scottish Executive, in partnership with SNH, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and Tayside Police have organised the removal of the pair of beavers, pending permission from the land owner."
She added that the Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie had "offered their expertise in capturing the animals and will re-house them".
Professor Colin Galbraith, of SNH, said the justification for the animals' capture, using a baited cage-trap, was to find out if they were European or American beavers, for the animals' own welfare and to enable a controlled, monitored release.
"SNH's original thoughts were we need a scientific trial done properly so we can monitor their progress and how they interact with forests and farming," he said.
Louise Ramsay, Paul's wife, said the beavers might prove difficult to find. "They can move remarkably far by water. I'm not sure if the beavers haven't out-witted us. I think they are probably psychic," she said.
Ant colonies must be moved to make way for housing
COLONIES of rare ants will have to be moved out to allow humans to move into a Highland village.
Planners at the Cairngorms National Park Authority will today discuss plans to build 117 houses in an area of Carrbridge, near Aviemore, which includes a native pine wood.
Officials are recommending approval, but with a range of conditions attached. These include the nests of wood ants that live on the site being relocated before any building starts. The site is home to several nests of the Scottish wood ant (formica aquilonia) and the hairy wood ant (formica lugubris), which are both species of conservation concern.
Park officials say two of the ant nests - which contain more than 100,000 individuals - would be protected and five relocated. Scottish Natural Heritage has no objection in principle to the translocation, which would have to be done using experts and at the developer's expense.
Details of where the ants would be relocated to, and the cost, have still to be finalised.
Part of the site is also home to several nests of the rarer narrow-headed wood ant. However, a survey has shown that the majority are some distance from the development, while those that are closer would be protected from construction disturbance by a fence and surrounding trees.
A spokesman for the charity Trees for LIFE said: "Translocating wood ants is not be a viable option in this case, as so little is known about how to do this successfully."
Vegetarians with a fishy reputation
BEAVERS mate for life and raise their young together over a period of about two years.
They are vegetarians with favoured foods including apples, water-lily tubers, clover and young bark. Their dams are designed to raise water levels to protect the lodge entrance from land-based predators.
Beavers are Canada's national animal and were known to Native Americans as the "sacred centre" of the land because of the rich habitat they created for other animals.
Experts believe their dams also help to reduce floods by slowing the amount of water heading downstream.
In the 17th century, the Catholic Church declared beavers to be fish, so they could be eaten on Fridays and during Lent.
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