Bringing Beavers Back to Argaty, Perthshire
At the edge of the pond is a felled tree. The stump remains in the ground, its tip sharpened to a fine pencil-point, the rest lies draped across the water. Adjacent to this, a beaver-dug canal now extends from the pond to nearby willows. These too have been gnawed. Soon they will join the ranks of the horizontal. For some a scene like this would be the stuff of nightmares. To me this is a sign of hope – hope that we can bring a bit of wildness back to our countryside.
After an absence of some 500 years, beavers, the bringers of life, are back on my Perthshire farm, Argaty. Like leaders in a revolution they are tearing down the broken old world, forcing in the new. Trees are being felled, waterways expanded, a whole world is being bent to their will. Mammals, birds and insects are already flocking to this new world, as followers are drawn to prophets. Water is flowing like new blood through the veins of this land.
In November Beaver Trust relocated a family of beavers to the farm. Last week a further family came. The animals had been trapped and removed from prime agricultural areas of Tayside where their impact on surrounding land use had been deemed unmanageable. We became the first landowners in Scotland to legally relocate beavers.
Argaty – a 1,400 acre estate comprised of pleasant green parkland in its southern half and calloused, windswept moorland in its northern – has been in my family since 1916. We run the place with two goals in mind. The first is to produce food sustainably. The second is to enhance the environment. Around a fifth of the farm is woodland, most of it linked by great sprawling hedgerows. In recent years we’ve sown 4.5 acres of wildflower meadow and taken the number of ponds here up to 16.
It was my parents that took our first steps into the world of rewilding. In 1996 the RSPB began reintroducing red kites to our part of Scotland, as part of a UK-wide programme to return the birds to our skies. Soon kites began nesting on Argaty. In partnership with the RSPB we set up the Argaty Red Kite project. Each day we provide the birds a small, supplementary feed – enough to top up what they find in the wild, not so much that they become dependent – and visitors come to see them and learn their story. We monitor kite nests (as well as kestrels, goshawks, ospreys, ravens and owls) on the estate, and leg ring chicks as part of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme, a massive citizen science project which teaches us so much about the health of our raptor populations.
In more recent times we’ve plunged further into rewilding, establishing red squirrel viewing hides, running dragonfly walks and more. Without wishing to sound pious, it makes us very happy to know that our home is also a home for nature.
In 2021 the opportunity to rehome beavers presented itself. A tenth of Scotland’s beaver population had been culled in the previous two years in prime agricultural areas. With pressure mounting to find non-lethal solutions to human-beaver conflicts, the Scottish Government announced that it would allow animals to be relocated within beavers’ current natural range. With beavers living wild just miles from Argaty, we fitted the bill. My friend James Nairne, a trustee for the Scottish Wild Beaver Group, approached me to ask whether I would apply. How could I say no?
We began extensive local and national consultations on the proposal of translocating beavers that would otherwise be culled to ponds on Argaty. The support we received was overwhelming. Late last year NatureScot approved our application. Beaver Trust’s Restoration Manager, the wonderful Roisin Campbell-Palmer, has since brought us two families. The license allows a further adult pair to be released here.
The changes that those first beavers have made have been incredible. Insects and arachnids crowd the beaver gnawed trees, drawn in by the exposed sap source. Herons sit like snipers, waiting for food beside newly dug canals. At night otters roll in fresh wood chip piles, attracted (so Roisin told me) by the scent of beavers, which is so irresistible to other mammals that Native Americans used it on their trapping lines. Every night the beavers make further changes. The story of these waterways is now and will forever be changing. We are thrilled to have beavers here, and so grateful to Beaver Trust for helping us to save them.
Tom Bowser is a journalist and author. He and his family run Argaty Red Kites, an award-winning rewilding project based on their Perthshire farm, Argaty. He has written for the Scotsman, Herald and Times and his book, A Sky Full of Kites: A Rewilding Story was published in 2021 by Birlinn.
#beavers #beaverbelievers #beavolution
© Tom Bowser, 2022.