When discussing the re-introduction of beavers to Scotland we must remember we are talking about the European beaver (Castor fibre) here, not the American variety. European beavers are larger, nocturnal and not genetically compatible to the American beaver so can be considered truly a different species of the same family. They have flattened tails for swimming and which they also use to bang on the surface of the water when alarmed.
They grow to around 18-20 kg in weight and unlike their American distant relatives, European beavers tend to use burrows in banks rather than lodges but will create a lodge when burrowing is impossible.
They disappeared from the UK in the 16th century and were widely persecuted in Europe for their fur. POpulations remain small but slowly increasing in maniland Europe. Entirely vegetarian, they will eat small shrubs, grasses and aquatic plants.
Their impact is less then that of the American beaver and they can be found in protected places like the Loire Valley in France and a study of the biodiversity of its banks tell syou that the prescence of the European beaver has very littl eimpact on the ecology of the area and can even enhance it by clearing waterways of unwanted small shrubs which can eventually clog arterial water supplies and form drier areas, which impede water flow.
Their re-introduction to Scotland needs to be carefully managed because , after all, the animal has not lived wild there for 400 years or so, the environment has changed with the introduction of thousands of acres of spruce trees replacing the traditional pine forests and the biodiversity of Scotland is less than before. there has to be certainty that beavers still have a viable ecological niches to fill ina very changed Scotland.
Beavers need clean, undistrubed rivers and waterways where they can burrow, build lodges if necessary and raise their young. They do not take kindly to distrubance so any re-introduction will mean long term protection of their environment. On the other hand, re-introducing a species once native is exciting and could make for an increased diversity of life in Scotland.
For success, the introduction sites need to be carefully chosen and numbers used so that inbreeding is not the norm. Small populations need to be able to meet and mix to encourage genetic variability and avoid problems of tiny populations inbreeding. The suitability of tree species and plants should also be carefully monitored because, just like the fauna, the flora of Scotland has changed and may not now be so suitable for these aquatic living herbivores.
There have been several ashcmes to re-introduce previously dominant native species from wolves, to otters, to sea eagles and now beavers and each potential success has to be carefully considered before action and carefully monitored before relaeasing animals but unless we try, we will never know so I say, go for it but with caution.