Messing about in boats, you come across all kinds of creatures – but it’s not the wild ones that chew your ear off.
Beavers do extraordinary things. While paddling canoes down the River Tay this summer, a local naturalist in our small team picked up a ‘beaver stick’. There are now several hundred beavers living free on the river and its many tributaries, and evidence of their activities is hard to miss. The stick shown to us had the typical gnaw patterns left by this industrious rodent on all sorts of woodwork, and I assumed it had been idly dropped or washed from some construction work.
This assumption was about to be thrown out of the water. Beavers are very careful with their sticks, and what we were looking at may well have been a message stick, a sort of beaver equivalent of a message in a bottle, imparting information to beavers downstream. With the Scottish sun bathing the river in a silvery hew and lighting the highland scenery, this knowledge added a deepening of the miracles of nature in which we were already submerged.
Scottish farmers along the banks of the river divide roughly between ‘beaver believers’ and those who want to return them to extinction. Sadly, many have been shot, and a tragic play of ignorance is being enacted. While freedom to control them and repair damage is an essential requirement, wholesale slaughter is just horrifying. Meanwhile in England the beaver is also returning, living free (if sometimes unofficially) on as many as ten of our rivers. For many ‘believers’ they are the new must-have accessory. On the River Otter in Devon the local community, including farmers, campaigned successfully to prevent Defra from killing several families of the new arrivals. Elsewhere, apparently, there is now a beaver dam one mile south of Canterbury cathedral.