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.
The beaver was the first mammal to be officially reintroduced in the UK following the very successful Scottish Beaver Trial, a project led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and Forestry Commission Scotland. They were given European Protected Species status by the Scottish Government in May 2019.
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 highly territorial and live in family groups, mainly in freshwater lochs and slow flowing rivers and burns. Beavers are crepuscular, rather than nocturnal, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk throughout the year. They do not hibernate.
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 mate for life 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
Beavers are a European Protected Species 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.
- Beavers can 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.