I DON’T know if you have ever seen that Billy Connolly sketch in which he turns to a fellow guest at a smart dinner party and asks: “And what do you do?” Back comes the reply: “tobogganing”.
This allows Connolly to go off on a perambulation about how the toffs are altogether a different race. Most people go to the office or the labour exchange. This man went tobogganing.
My Connolly moment arrived at a similar do when an elderly gent, on the edge of our conversation suddenly bellowed “Beavers”. At the time I was being told a story about Sir Winston Churchill and an Italian cruise line. “Adore beavers,” continued the interloper, pressing home his surprise advantage. Now the only reason anyone talks about beavers in Scotland is to complain, or not, that the Scottish Government has given up trying to trap the escaped beavers in Tayside. The escapees are expected to breed with impunity and clog up the waterways and salmon runs with their dams. But unable to catch the little blighters, the Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson has opportunistically decreed that beavers should instead become the subject of an uncontrolled experiment in wildlife monitoring. “That’s the man. Stevenson. Ghastly. It’ll all end in tears,” announced our beaver man.
After some unscrambling, the story went like this. Our beaver man had worked for seven years in his youth for the Hudson’s Bay company in Canada in which time he had bought from the Native American Indians 10,000 pelts and 300lbs of castoreum, the scent beavers excrete and which is highly prized by the French perfume industry. However, he had also, in later life as a fisherman and amateur naturalist, travelled to South America. In 1946, 25 pairs of beavers were introduced to Tierra del Fuego in Argentina. There are now 100,000. The beavers consumed the only woody species of plant available to them, the Southern Beech, for food and building materials and then invaded Chile and Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve where they are considered “invasive ecosystem engineers” upsetting the plant and animal balance in the world’s southern-most forested ecosystem.
And as for the other “experiment”, releasing Norwegian beavers in Argyll, the man from Hudson’s Bay was unconvinced. “No hard winters – vital for good pelts. No government will dare cull ’em – just like cuddly seals. West Highlanders won’t eat ’em, not like the Cree. Anyway beaver tail soup – awful, nothing but blubber. Give it to Alex Salmond.”
Well indeed – if only his Environment Minister could catch them.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 3 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: West