ECOS 38 (1)
Reviewed by Mark Elliott
Devon Beaver Project Lead, Devon Wildlife Trust
The complete guide to a returning mammal
In November 2016, the Scottish Government made the momentous decision to once again recognise the native Eurasian Beaver as a resident species, and announced that it will soon grant it legal protection in Scotland. With the likelihood of a similar decision in England and Wales in the near future, it seems that beavers are once again a part of the British fauna after an absence of some 400 years. This will mean the literature about British mammals needs updating and there could be no better introduction than the new Eurasian Beaver Handbook.
The authors of this handbook include many of the most significant names in beaver conservation in Europe, drawing on a wide range of experiences and perspectives, which gives this book great depth and insight. Co-ordinated by UK beaver specialist Roisin Campbell-Palmer, they include academics, from Britain and Norway, and many of those involved with the Scottish Beaver Trial. Mammal and beaver consultant Derek Gow, together and Gerhart Schweb from Bavaria provide material on practical expertise in beaver management techniques, handling and field ecology.
Beavers are known as a keystone species, and for good reason. They are amazing water engineers, and create and manage wetland habitats in a truly sustainable way. However this can bring conflicts with existing land-uses. Beavers feed on riverside trees and occasionally crops, and build dams to create depth of water, sometimes where it is not welcome. They burrow into banks, block culverts and interfere with water management infrastructure particular in small watercourses and ditches. Techniques for managing beaver related issues have been developed across Europe and North America, and are discussed in great detail in this book, alongside chapters on the ecology and behaviour that lie behind these impacts.
The book has a detailed section on field survey techniques, developed and applied by Roisin and others, that relies on the wide variety of field signs that such a large animal leaves behind. As well as the larger more obvious signs such as canals, dams and lodges, it includes signs of feeding activity including grazed lawns, bark stripped and felled trees, feeding stations, food caches and the harder to find faeces and scent mounds.
For me, working on the River Otter Beaver Trial here in Devon, this book is already providing a quick reference guide which I’m finding easy to use and full of valuable information. It is well organised and referenced and will become vital for those managing land which beavers recolonise in the decades ahead.