All of us have little buttons inside us which when pressed release a rant from within. The word “beaver” causes controversy in my household. I’m wildly for the re-introduction of these giant furry rodents. My husband mingles with the hunting, shooting, fishing and land-owning gentry. He is a forester and is less than keen. “It’s going to be a problem. You mark my words,” he says, with a grimace.
Yesterday two beaver families were re-introduced into Argyll. So debate was re-introduced into our conversations. Twelve years ago when we lived in Ontario we saw lots of busy beavers. The outdoor centre where I worked had 200 acres of beautiful woodland and farm property. Whilst we were there, a beaver family moved in and significantly changed the water flows. The situation required careful monitoring to ensure the flooding didn’t reach the centre or cover too much ground.
The beaver is about the only other mammal, aside from humans, that significantly changes a landscape to meet its needs. I am intrigued that beavers cause a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) reaction in so many. So it’s OK for humans to mine, clear land, destroy virgin forests and build hydro-electric dams to meet our needs, but the same folk get hoity-toity about beavers damming a large stream.
However my real enthusiasm for the re-introduction of beavers stems not from moral, ethical or environmental reasons. Educationally, this animal is a hands-down winner. Like most teachers I am not a naturalist. I do not know or recognise subtle signs around us which provide evidence of wildlife at work. Beavers are in-your-face creatures. At dawn and dusk, they will happily chomp on fresh plant stems a short distance away. If they are scared, they slap their tails. It sounds like a pistol going off. They make mistakes. Young beavers sometimes gnaw down trees which are way too big to drag to their lodge or dam. The drag lines, tree stumps, dams and lodges are clearly visible. You don’t need to be a budding David Attenborough to identify beaver territory.
The Scottish beaver website gives lots of interesting facts and ecological reasons to get excited about beavers. I hope any dead beavers are treated carefully and their remnants used for educational purposes. Children need opportunities to get enthused about wildlife and nature. It’s amazing to handle chisel-tipped beaver teeth which are super strong with an iron content sufficient to give the teeth a rusty coloured tinge. Wading through shallow water by a beaver dam is an adventure. A chance to build a dam with sticks and mud is a surprisingly absorbing and challenging problem solving task. A moment of calm and reflection can take place when a child strokes a thick pelt of fur. I want beavers in my back yard for this purpose. Welcome home.