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P&J readers react: Beavers in Cairngorms — ’fantastic’ or ’madness’?

Our readers weighed in on plans to return the beaver to Cairngorms National Park.

A beaver
A beaver swimming in Scottish waters. Image: ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

After more than 400 years, beavers could be soon returning to Cairngorms National Park.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) officially committed to bringing Eurasian beavers back to the park last year.

With permission from three landowners near the River Spey secured, the park authority has now applied for a license to release the animals into three distinct areas.

This wouldn’t be the first area of Scotland to welcome back the buck-toothed rodent.

The potential of return of beavers to Cairngorms National Park has proved contentious among P&J readers. Image: Trees for Life.

In the 2000s, “covert” releases in Tayside resulted in an unofficial population becoming established, and in 2009 government permission was granted for trial releases at Knapdale, Argyll.

CNPA beaver project manager Jonathan Willet described the progress to bring back beavers as “tremendously exciting”.

The population has grown in Tayside, with many farmers complaining about them damaging their land and crops over the years.

While some P&J readers welcomed the news as “fantastic and needed,” others were less impressed.

Many feared there the beavers would bring similar difficulties as to the ones faced by people living in Tayside, with one reader describing the plan as “madness”.

Beavers could be introduced at 3 River Spey sites from end of November: What you need to know

Yay! Like Tayside!

Forres Councillor Draeyk Van Der Horn wrote: “Fantastic and needed, help with river management and bring benefits to other species.”

map of beaver release sites
Nature Scot studies showed the area between Kingussie and Aviemore had some of the best habitat for beavers. Image: Roddie Reid / DC Thomson Date; 20/10/2023

Craig Douglas Mctavish wrote: “Best news ever I love beavers.”

Others sought to defend the rotund rodents from naysayers.

Smithie Dee wrote: “Plenty of developers are cutting down ancient trees up and down the country, water companies poisoning waterways with sewage daily, farmers too with their pesticides, and yet the beaver is considered the pest!”

Nick Durie wrote: “Great news. No part of Scotland is a wilderness though. It’s all man-made ecosystems. Give the big rodent its chance to shape it back a little before we ruin most it.”

Nae like Tayside

Many readers pointed to the experience of those living in Tayside as a reason for concern.

The beavers potentially moving to the Cairngorms will come from the Tay catchment.

Patrick Sleigh wrote: “Bad idea, in a few years you will see the damage they to trees & river banks as has been happening being on the River Tay catchment valley.”

Three new spots across the Spey have been chosen as potential habitats for beavers to be moved to. Image: Elliot McCandless/Beaver Trust

Others raised concerns about the impacts on farmers, salmon spawning rivers and flooding.

Mike Sheridan wrote: “I am OK with that idea PROVIDED land owners can legally cull them, without any paperwork, if they don’t want them or they cause damage. We have to be very careful about unwanted raptors on our land.”

Currently beavers are considered a European Protected Species, meaning only those with a licence can kill them.

Others looked to examples from further afield than Tayside.

Gary Schwab wrote: “I’m in North Central Oklahoma and we’ve got plenty of beaver around here. Yes they can be destructive but at the same time constructive. As they fall trees they’ll build dams, now the problem is that they may not fall the trees you want fallen or they may not built their dam where man wants it either.

“We have furbearer season here, along with all it’s regulations. But we kill off all or our beaver a few centuries ago. There’s nothing a beaver can do that man can’t undo.”

Colin Wilson wrote: “What next? Lynx? Bears? Wolves? Madness.”

When might this happen?

Potentially as soon as the end of November, depending on how the park authority’s licence application goes.

But because beavers live in families (which could be as many as six beavers) they need to be relocated as a group, meaning they all need to be captured at the same time. This could cause delays.

Mr Willet hopes by working with landowners they can find solutions, such as moving beavers to different sites, if there are any problems.

He said: “There is quite a divisiveness about beavers, and we accept that and we understand that and want to listen to people, but we believe we can do it differently here and it’s going to be an overall benefit for those living and working within the park.

“That’s the main message, we want beavers to benefit and we people to benefit too.”

Charity hopes to return beavers to Highland glen 400 years after they were driven to extinction