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They're back! Beavers return to Scotland for first time in 500 years


By John Garth

Last updated at 11:26 AM on 29th May 2009




Three families of European beavers were released in a Scottish forest today nearly five centuries after the species was hunted to extinction.

Eleven beavers caught in Norway were released in Knapdale Forest, Argyll, after six months in quarantine.

It comes a year after the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland were given the go-ahead for the controversial trial reintroduction.

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article-1189460-0521404E000005DC-380_634x419.jpg Comeback: Conservationists hope the beavers, captured in Norway, will thrive in their new Scottish home

Opponents fear that beavers could damage stocks of salmon and other fish, threatening angling which is worth £100million annually to the Scottish economy.

But the 11 beavers, fitted with tracking devices, are not being released in salmon rivers.

The beavers have been tested continually through their quarantine to make sure they are free of bacteria such as giardia and cryptosporidium - 'food poisoning bugs' which can affect humans.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) will monitor the trial at a cost of £275,000 and will report to ministers on the outcome.


article-1189460-052145D5000005DC-748_634x403.jpg Getting ready: Simon Jones and Jenny Holden of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland arrive in Knapdale Forest, Argyll, today with one of the 11 beavers in its carrying cage


article-1189460-05214580000005DC-244_634x436.jpg Let me out: This beaver seems understandably keen to get on with its release in the wilds of Knapdale Forest, below


article-1189460-05220B9A000005DC-238_634x592.jpg The three families have been placed in artificial lodges around the forest until they can build ones for themselves.

Conservationists hope the beavers will boost tourism, but say it will be too early to come and see them for several months because they will not have settled in yet.

The European beavers - Latin name Castor fiber - are believed to be the closest relatives of those that once inhabited Britain's rivers and lakes, and this is the first time a native mammal species has been formally reintroduced into the wild.


article-1189460-052145CB000005DC-293_634x409.jpg Big moment: Simon and Jenny manoeuvre the cage into place and release the animal


article-1189460-05214577000005DC-233_634x441.jpg Free again: One of the beavers swims away, clearly showing the tracking device that will be used to monitor the trial

The last record of beavers living in the wild in Britain was in 1526. They were killed off for their pelts and for castoreum, a secretion of their scent glands which was believed to be effective against headaches, fevers and hysteria.


SNH's policy chief Colin Galbraith said: 'We are pleased the trial is under way as it provides the best opportunity to see how beavers fit into the Scottish countryside, in a carefully planned and managed way.

'The scientific trial will measure and evaluate the beavers' interactions with the local environment.'

He promised the monitoring programme would be 'transparent and open', with results available on SNH's website so everyone can see how the beavers settle in and how they affect their environment.

The trial, mostly funded by private donations, follows the reintroduction of beavers at 150 sites in 24 other European countries.


article-1189460-05214585000005DC-50_634x356.jpg Controversy: Conservationists hope the beavers will thrive and bring tourism, but opponents fear they might deplete fish stocks

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