Once a common sight across the UK, the Eurasian beaver was hunted to extinction in Britain around 400 years ago.
The second largest rodents in the world, beavers were targeted for their soft, thick and waterproof fur. By the 16th Century, the beaver population across Europe was reduced to just a handful of sites in Norway, France and Germany. Following various controls on hunting, as well as a series of reintroductions across Europe, the population is now once again widespread and estimated to number around 1.2 million.
Today, the beaver has become the first mammal to be officially reintroduced in the UK following the very successful Scottish Beaver Trial led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and Forestry Commission Scotland. In 2019 they were granted European Protected Species status in Scotland.
Beavers have dense, brown or even black fur. They are stocky animals with small ears and eyes and a characteristically flattened, broad and scaly tail.
Beavers are most famous for their dam-building behaviours. Known as being one of nature’s most incredible engineers, they are able to fell trees with their sharp, chisel-like teeth which they then drag into the water to construct dams and lodges.
They are strictly vegetarian. Despite common misconceptions, they do not eat fish but instead prefer to munch on aquatic plants, grasses and shrubs during the summer months and woody plants in winter. They will often store food underwater so that they can access it if the water freezes over.
Pairs are territorial and have one litter of kits per year, with an average of three kits per litter
Length: up to 1m plus a tail of 30cm
Average lifespan: 7-8 years
The Scottish Government announced that beavers were allowed to remain in Scotland in November 2016.
In February 2019, it was announced that beavers were to be given European Protected Species status in Scotland.
Present in the wild in Knapdale Forest in Argyll and along the River Tay.
When to see
Jan – Dec
Beavers are a ‘keytone species’ within their ecosystem. They create wetlands which provide habitats for a range of wildlife such as water voles, otters, dragonflies and amphibians. They coppice waterside trees and shrubs, letting in light to help plants grow and allowing the scrub to grow back as dense cover for birds and other animals. Beaver dams trap sediment, improve water quality, reduce the risk of flooding downstream, and increase cover for trout and salmon.