Perth has become the first city in the UK to have resident urban beavers, according to a new study.
The aquatic mammals are establishing a “strong presence” in the Fair City, according to researchers conducting the most comprehensive survey ever of the animal in Scotland.
The survey, conducted by Exeter University for government agency NatureScot, has been set up to gather detailed, up-to-date information on the location and number of active beaver territories, as well as to assess the health and spread of the overall population, after beavers became extinct in Scotland several hundred years ago.
‘Wonderful wildlife watching’ in Perth
The survey has already found “plenty of evidence” of beaver activity on the River Tay, including right in the centre of Perth, providing a “wonderful wildlife watching experience for Perth residents”.
While there has been a beaver territory on the Tay at Perth since at least 2017, the surveyors found even more evidence this year.
In particular, they identified a number of fresh field signs on Moncreiffe Island. Along the river at the North Inch, there are also obvious signs of beaver presence, highlighting their amazing ability to gnaw and fell some sizeable riverside trees.
Behaviour not unusual for beavers across globe
Perth is the first city in the UK to have resident urban beavers. Around the world, beavers have established territories in many urban areas, including a number of cities across Europe such as Bratislava, Trondhiem, Berne, Munich and Vienna, so this behaviour is not unusual.
The survey work in Tayside and surrounding areas is part of a large programme being completed in the autumn and winter when there are fewer leaves on trees and beaver signs are easier to spot.
In spite of the cold and snowy conditions, surveyors have completed more than 100 field survey days so far with thousands of confirmed field signs left by beavers.
High water levels in larger rivers has meant the surveyors have had to selectively survey smaller watercourses and lochs, and then larger rivers when conditions are suitable, rather than working across the country systematically.
Survey work continues with key areas still to be surveyed including parts of the Trossachs, River Forth and River Teith, part of the lower River Tay, South Esk, and some minor burn and ditch systems within Tayside.
Denise Reed, NatureScot’s Tayside and Grampian area manager, said: “Perth already has an abundance of wildlife on its doorstep and we’re excited to hear about the beavers there.
“It can lay claim to being the first city in the UK to have its own resident beaver families.”
Survey will assess impacts of beavers on ecosystems
The survey began on October 1 and when completed, the results will be analysed, with up-to-date mapping and current estimates of the number of active territories available this summer.
Professor Richard Brazier, project lead from Exeter University, said: “The survey work is important because it enables us to understand, with an objective approach, how beaver territories have changed, where beavers are living and what impacts, both positive and negative, beavers are having on our ecosystems.
“When we compare the results with those of the previous survey that we ran three years ago, we are also able to look at the impact of beaver management on beaver numbers and territories, to learn lessons and improve our approaches to beaver management in the future.”
The survey covers the Tay and the surrounding river catchments, including the Forth and river systems in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.
In the last survey in 2017, approximately 1,300km of river and loch shore were surveyed.
The new survey covers an even larger area as beavers have been sighted as far afield as Fife to the south east and Loch Lomond in the west, with a beaver even briefly passing through Clydebank last year.
Beavers became a European Protected Species on May 1 2019.
Hundreds of feral beavers have made their homes in the Tay and Earn river catchment areas in Perthshire and Angus and are thought to be descendants of animals which escaped from private collections.
The public can contribute to the survey by reporting sightings of beavers and their field signs using the Mammal Society’s Mammal Mapper app, available for both iPhone and Android, or online.