Wild beavers could return to Scotland in the next three years. Scottish Natural Heritage is backing the idea, but it will need to convince the public first.
Scotland's Highlands are the perfect habitat for beavers
Scotland may be beautiful but it is missing something. That is the opinion of naturalists who hope to reintroduce beavers to the Highlands.
Lochs are perfect beaver territory. But beavers have not been seen in Britain for more than 400 years since they were hunted to extinction.
Across Europe and Scandinavia they are being reintroduced, and in Norway they have become a popular tourist attraction.
Roy Dennis, who studied the reintroduction of beavers in Europe, believes they would make an amazing difference to the countryside. "They are the real workers of the aquatic environment. They open up sedge areas and make little waterways, dams and pools that are extremely good for fish, otters, frogs and dragonflies. In fact, they are one of the major players of the environment."
The popular image of the beaver is the film stereotype of a dam building, tree-felling rodent. Scottish Heritage hopes it can dispel some of these myths.
"There are two species of beavers," said Dr Mairi Cooper from Scottish Natural Heritage. "The European beaver prefers to burrow into river banks. It doesn't build big dams. They don't clear fell areas - they just thin areas out. So very few of the perceptions are actually true."
Beavers eat trees such as willow and aspen. But they also thrive on sedges and other bog plants near the water's edge.
However, rather than damaging trees, Roy Dennis believes beavers would make lodges of sticks and mud if reintroduced to Scotland's lochs. Near rivers they would probably dig in holes in the river bank.
Some fishermen oppose the idea. This is due to a common misconception that beavers eat fish. They are, in fact, vegetarians.
There has been much talk in recent years of bringing back Scotland's lost wildlife. The lynx, the wild boar even the wolf have been discussed. But of all the creatures which once occupied Scotland's landscape, the beaver seems to have the best chance of return.
© BBC Scotland News, 19 th March 1998
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