The Scottish Beaver Trial – what was it and why was it important?


Beavers are mostly associated with countries such as Canada, but not many people realise that you can actually find these creatures right here in the UK. A successful trial release of beavers in Scotland has meant that there are now an estimated 400+ beavers living in Scotland across 2 different populations, 1 based in the East of Scotland due to unauthorised escapes, and 1 in Argyll where the Scottish Beaver Trial ran from 2009-2014.

But how did this trial come to be, and what actually happened? We wanted to write a guide about this monumental event which literally changed and shaped the Scottish landscape for the better. Let's get into it:

Why introduce beavers into Scotland?

Firstly, you might be wondering why beavers were actually released into the wild of Scotland. The thinking behind the trial was that having beavers living in the wild of Scotland would benefit both the animal and the environment. The trial wanted to look at how beavers can enhance and restore natural environments. Beavers are known as a 'keystone' species because of how they modify their surroundings, which they do by
coppicing, feeding, and, as is well-known, damming. This activity creates ponds and wetlands which bring other species to areas and also provide a food source to other species. The activity of beavers can even help to improve water quality. So it's not a surprise that an event like the Scottish Beaver Trial took place.

Where were the beavers released?

As we mentioned in our introduction, the Beaver Trial took place in Argyll, specifically Knapdale Forest in the Heart of Argyll. The thinking behind this was that the forest features a range of habitats suitable for beavers. The largest dam that the beavers built during the trialĀ  was 18m long and 1.6m high, and was located on the Dubh Loch.


The woodland area was also the ideal location for the coppicing activity that we mentioned previously. When the beavers fell the trees, light is able to penetrate to the ground below, which promotes the growth of other plants, which in turn encourages insects, birds, and other wildlife to move there.

How did the Scottish Beaver Trial work?

The Scottish Beaver Trial was a partnership project between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Forestry Commission Scotland which lasted for 5 years, but a number of other bodies and organisations helped with the monitoring phase of the trial. The licence for the Trial was granted by the Scottish Government in 2008, and a year later the first beavers were released. The beavers themselves were monitored to ensure that they were healthy and flourishing, but actually, most of the monitoring was of the environment itself to note the changes. Everything from the fish and the water chemistry to the woodland habitat was monitored very closely to see if the changes that were expected took place.

What is the current status of beavers in Scotland?

As you know, the Trial was successful and both the beavers and environment flourished. You can still see the beavers at Knapdale Forest, however, they are elusive creatures and often hard to spot. The outcome of the trial was that in November 2016, the Scottish Government announced that beavers were to remain in Scotland as a protected species. There is also an active ongoing management programme.


The Scottish Beaver Trial also set the precedent for other beaver releases across the UK, including the River Otter Beaver Trial in England.
Hopefully this guide has helped you to understand a bit more about the Scottish Beaver Trial and understand why it was so important. We also hope that you feel inspired to take a trip to Knapdale Forest. Feel free to check out our guide about Argyll, as well as the town of Inveraray which is less than an hour away from the forest.

Finn is the editor of You Well and has been writing about travel, health, and more for over 10 years.

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