The ultimate ecosystem engineers.
As you travel alongside the River Ericht, you may well see signs of Beavers (see the link to the Scottish Wild Beaver Group site on the right hand side of this page, which will tell you what to look out for).
Beavers were once native to Scotland with the fossil record indicating that the species was living here two million years ago, 1.3–1.5 million years before the first humans. But humans hunted them to extinction as recently as 300-400 years ago, mainly for their valuable fur pelts. After trial re-introductions in the early 2,000’s, in 2019, they became a protected species in Scotland.
Beavers are widely considered to be ‘ecosystem engineers’ which means they have a large impact on habitats and species through the alterations they make to the physical environment. By damming rivers Beavers create ponds and wetlands that attract lots of other wildlife such as frogs, otters, fish and invertebrates. Their felling and coppicing stimulate plant growth and diversity, attracting more insects, which, in turn, brings in more amphibians, birds and small mammals. This makes them a very important part of any ecosystem, a role which is called a ‘keystone species’.
All the woody debris Beavers produce, and the intricate networks of ponds, streams and dams they make hold back immense amounts of water and slow the flow downstream to farmland and urban areas, lessening the impacts of flooding. That woody debris also acts as a giant filter for trapping sediment – often containing harmful nitrogen and phosphorous from agriculture – to improve water quality. That water retention can also come in handy during droughts, and with the increasing threat of wildfire, beaver habitat can stop it in its tracks.
Beavers are strict herbivores and feed on a wide variety of plant species – including shoots, leaves, roots and stems of waterside vegetation and leaves. They always work at night carrying mud and stones with their fore-paws and timber between their teeth.
The second-largest rodent in the world, they are excellent swimmers and divers, can swim underwater for ½ mile, and hold their breath for up to 15 minutes.
The presence of beavers is often easily identified by the chiselled stumps of felled trees. They live in lodges and/or burrows. Lodges are often highly visible structures made from cut branches, logs and mud Burrows are often inconspicuous with underwater entrances.
Beaver dams are built from a variety of logs, branches, grass, mud and stones. They are built to retain water, create feeding areas, provide safe refuge (and keep the lodge entrance under water) and facilitate travel and movement of logs and branches.
Beavers form lifetime pairs, with a pair defending a strict territory against unrelated intruders. They usually live in family groups. As many as 12 beavers may make up a family, but generally there are 6 or fewer. The group includes the adult male and female, the young born the year before, and the newborn. A female beaver carries her young inside her body for about three months before they are born. She has two to four babies at a time. Most young beavers, called kits or pups, are born in April or May. Beavers live as long as 12 years.