That dead time in between Christmas and New Year was easy to fill as a child. New toys to play with, movies to be watched, chocolate to be eaten – a busy, busy time. But as an adult (and I use that term loosely) it’s just time off work, if you’re lucky. This year was something different.
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Getting back in touch with family you’ve not seen for many years is always a surprise. I hadn’t seen my cousin for many years and was delighted to get an invite to go up to Scotland. It was then I realised his fiancé was very much involved with the controversial beaver re-introduction programme.
The drive took six hours, delayed in parts by the snowy and icy roads. You might already know about my inner child’s passion for snow and the drive only heightened the excitement.
It was dark when we arrived, slip-sliding into the parking area, but a hot chilli fanned a fire in our bellies.
We entered a magical world, a winter wonderland of trees and tracks.
We followed Red deer and Roe deer, fox, woodcock and pine marten but it takes your breathe away to see signs of beaver activity.
Beavers became extinct in Scotland in the 16th Century and we lost the greatest wetland conservationists. Beavers affect the survival and abundance of other wildlife and are considered to be a “keystone” species. They have one mate for a life that lasts around eight years and have one litter (of 2-3 kits) a year from around the age of two. Wholly vegetarian and more active at dawn and dusk they eat grasses, shrubs and aquatic plants in the Summer and woody plants in the Winter.
Beavers live in small family groups in lodges. They encourage new growth by gnawing and coppicing the local woodland bringing new life. Beaver dams create ponds and wetlands that attract a multitude of wildlife species. Beavers truly are the experts in woodland and wetland conservation.
This I knew – but nothing can prepare you for seeing the first signs of beaver activity for 400 years out in the wild. I have to admit, I got a little choked.
We didn’t see any beavers while we were there. It was early afternoon and cold, they were probably snug in their lodge.
Later, after soaking up the stillness of the forest, we paused on the route home to say hello to some Highland Cattle. They didn’t appear to be amoosed.
If you’re interested in finding out more about beavers, keeping up to date with the re-introduction project or fancy a visit to Knapdale (which I highly recommend) then take a look at the Official home of the Scottish Beaver Trial. And give Chris and Jenny (Buffy the Beaver Slayer!) a wave while you’re there.