Friday, 4 April 2014

Busy Beavers

If you go down to Mill Dam today…you’re in for a beaver surprise!

Regular visitors will have seen fallen trees, lying forlornly next to jagged, bright orange stumps, cut to a sharp 45 degree angle. Look more closely and you can see numerous teeth marks, where (in particular) alder and downy birch trees have been comprehensively gnawed by newly resident beavers!

These architecturally-minded rodents moved into Mill Dam in the autumn of 2013 and the signs of their activity are visible all around the loch. Experts in engineering, beavers fell the trees not only for construction of their burrows, dams and lodges, but also to munch on juicy bark (they enjoy the cambium layer between the outer bark and heartwood), which is central to their vegetarian diet.

A feeding area, with stripped twigs and bark

It’s amazing to see the hard work of these native animals as they make themselves at home! As a keystone species, beavers have a big impact on the survival and abundance of other members of the ecological community in which they live. Whilst the initial impacts of beavers' endeavours may seem drastic, as they coppice and dam wetland areas, the results of their labours can be hugely beneficial for other wildlife and wetland systems as they regulate water flow and improve water quality. Otters, water shrews, water voles, birds, invertebrates such as dragonflies and fish are just some of the species which may be helped by the presence of beavers. 

Beavers are crepuscular, so the best time to catch a glimpse of them is at dawn or dusk. We’re keeping a close eye on beaver activity at Mill Dam and feeding the results of our monitoring into the Tayside Beaver Study Group monitoring programme. As time goes on it will be interesting to see whether the beavers are here to stay!