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Park Talk: Bringing back beavers

16th February 2023

By Grant Moir, Chief Executive, Cairngorms National Park Authority

Ecosystem engineer – a term often used to describe the beaver – a species with an incredible ability to restore and create new wetlands, naturally coppicing trees to regenerate native woodland, and improve habitats for a wide range of species. Beavers were lost from the Cairngorms National Park in the 16th century. All that is about to change though!

Eurasian beavers have European Protected Species status and the Scottish Government is supporting translocations as a proactive measure to establish beavers outside of their current range. In June last year, the Park Authority Board agreed that we would, with our well-developed partnership network, take the lead on bringing this lost species back to the Cairngorms National Park.

In the UK, we have lost around 90 per cent of our wetlands, these are places which store and clean our water, provide a sink for carbon and provide a habitat for young fish, insects, amphibians, mammals and birds. These habitats are essential for us, our wildlife and the fight against climate change and beavers create them instinctively, intuitively alongside other species – and without the need for extensive intervention by people.

A lot has changed in our landscape since beavers were last here and we know that sometimes their activities can impact on other wildlife, land management and infrastructure. That is why we are embarking on a broad programme of engagement to provide information, dispel myths and importantly identify benefits and concerns. We will also be sharing information about the Nature Scot beaver management and mitigation schemes to address negative impacts.

Our work is currently focussed on the upper Spey Catchment – as it has been specifically identified as being highly suitable for beaver – so our early engagement and ‘Beaver Blethers’ are all taking place in Badenoch and Strathspey. For farmers and land managers there is a dedicated drop-in session on Wednesday 1st March at the Kincraig Community Hall from 2pm-7pm. This will provide an opportunity to find out more about beavers and our plans, prior to the six week formal engagement programme that will begin in May.

There are drop-in sessions taking place for the general public too. These ‘Beaver Blethers’ are all taking place between 2pm – 7pm:

  • Thursday 9th March at the Duke of Gordon Hotel, Kingussie
  • Thursday 16th March at the Community Hall, Kincraig
  • Wednesday 22nd March at the Aviemore Youth Hostel

We have recently appointed a beaver project manager who is coordinating various aspects of engagement and research and who will be working with partners and the Cairngorms Beaver Group to ensure that the arrival of beavers is well managed. For example our officer will be looking at where beavers are likely to build dams and what issues might occur in those locations. Population and dispersal modelling is also being undertaken.

As you can imagine, there are a great many discussions happening with the likes of the Spey Fishery Board and farming bodies. All of this work and the outcomes of the formal engagement will inform our licence application to NatureScot to translocate beavers to the Park. There is certainly a great deal going on to support the return of beavers to the Spey catchment and all this work will undoubtedly offer an insight into, and direct what happens in the future.