The European Beaver coming soon to a loch near you?
After a 400 year absence, beavers may be reintroduced to Scotland's rivers.
Scottish Natural Heritage made the proposal earlier this year, and it is backed by the Worldwide Fund for Nature.
Concerns have been expressed over the possible effects on fish stocks and woodland, but the WWF says these are misplaced.
The dams of the European beaver are smaller than those of its North American cousin, and it is vegetarian, so fish stocks should not be at risk.
Beaver may help fish stocks
In fact, according to WWF spokesman Martin Mathers, fish stocks may actually rise if beavers are re-introduced.
"European beavers build small dams which slow the water down. Dead vegetation gets trapped behind the dams in this slow water which allows insects to feed.
"Fish can then feed on these insects. As a result there is more food, fish grow more quickly, and the whole system benefits."
The proposed re-introduction is not without risks, however.
Salmon fishermen have expressed concern. Even Castor fiber's smaller dams may cause local flooding, and it is possible they may interfere with fish migration, but Scottish Natural Heritage is confident these problems can be dealt with.
The beaver was hunted to extinction across Europe for its fashionable pelt, but it has already been re-introduced successfully in 14 other countries.
If they are re-introduced, they would probably be established around slow-running rivers and lochs like Loch Ness and Loch Lomond.
© BBC News, 13 th July 1998
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