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JIM CRUMLEY: Beavers to London? Rewilding in Scotland is dead in the water

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Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the rewilding movement in Scotland works. Any credibility it ever had ends with sending wild Tayside beavers to Tottenham.

But first, a moment of history.

The thing to do now, I told myself, is nothing at all. I don’t mind telling you that I am particularly good at doing nothing at all. It is a gift that serves a nature writer well.

I had just seen an odd shudder go through the surface on the far side of a backwater of the Earn.

It was fully 10 years ago, perhaps longer, and this was one of my earliest explorations of the phenomenon that had landed almost on my doorstep: wild beavers were back on Tayside.

The shudder subsided and stilled. So did I. Then a tree started to swim towards me.

It had to be swimming rather than just floating because it was moving upstream.

It was not a whole tree but a substantial part of a small one. Some foliage trailed out into midstream.

And this tree had been the cause of the shudder.

But trees don’t float upstream

It stood to reason there had to be a source of propulsion. Otherwise, it would turn in its own length and float away downstream.

A few miles further on it would enter the Tay, blur past Newburgh, breenge past Dundee, and by nightfall or daybreak it would be somewhere out by the Bell Rock.

But it had just covered 20 upstream yards in half a minute.

And there was a curious bulge that deformed the otherwise straight and slender trunk.

A beaver moves through the water.

It was nothing less than the top half of the head of a swimming beaver.

I had never seen a swimming beaver before, with or without a tree attached, so in the greater scheme of things this was quite a moment for a Scottish nature writer.

That moment has resurfaced many times in the intervening decade-and-a-bit.

The excitement I felt at being in the presence of one of nature’s most innovative architects of wildness as it struggled to establish a toehold in Scotland will live with me forever.

At that moment, Scotland was a blank canvas for a beaver. Watch, I told myself, watch and learn.

And never forget this: the beaver is the second-best manipulator of landscape, distributor of raw wildness, and creator of opportunities for other wild creatures in the northern hemisphere, second only to our as-yet-unintroduced wolves.

And never forget this either: beavers were given legal protection by the Scottish Parliament – ALL beavers – with the declared intention to re-establish them throughout their historic range in Scotland.

Public information signs in Knapdale, where the official reintroduction was trialled.

An angry farmer with a gun, no interest in nature or the concept of biodiversity, no patience and no willingness to learn from this ingenious creature newly in our midst, is not a good enough reason to go back on the parliament’s original enlightened decision.

NatureScot’s role in what has happened since then is as grotesque as that of angry farmers with guns.

And once public reaction to the confetti of shooting licences found its voice, the means of appeasing angry farmers with guns moved from shooting to translocation.

Let beavers be beavers

So, far from assisting the cause of re-establishing beavers across their historic range in Scotland, they have been off-loaded to Yorkshire, Cumbria and Devon.

And now it looks as if they are going to Tottenham, north London, where it seems there is a marsh as well as a football ground.

It is barely credible that Trees for Life and the Beaver Trust among others associated with the rewilding movement are complicit in this.

Scottish beavers are wild animals. They have found their way into new territories as the population grows, making their own decisions and behaving the way that wild beavers do.

It is nowhere near good enough that we as a species assume the right to decide which characteristics of beaver behaviour we can accept and which we cannot tolerate.

What gives us that right? The arrogance at work is breathtaking.

The beaver population today is nowhere near the point at which relocation might just be acceptable in exceptional circumstances.

And shooting is never an option.

The population is still a tiny fraction of what it is capable of achieving. By any standards, it is still endangered.

There is also this: Scotland is still a novice at the reintroduction of wild creatures, and on a daily basis we ignore the first essential rule of the process: watch and learn.

The beaver’s capacity to transform a piece of land into one of unimaginable ecological riches takes decades.

We have never been willing to give them that kind of time. Instead, we resorted to knee-jerk and guns. And now translocations – out of sight is out of mind.

A beaver is prepared for transport.

To win a hearing for nature from a standpoint other than that of human use is almost impossible.

I didn’t write that, John Muir did, more than 100 years ago. Talk about prescient.

All we had to do was to give beavers their head, watch what they do and where they go, and we would have benefited from a masterclass in what we call rewilding.

But as things stand, rewilding is dead in the water.