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Wading with beavers

Beavers are starting to become part of the river's wildlife, but will they help or hinder wild fish?

Beavers are now present in such numbers on the Tay that they are beginning to exert their influence on the river. But will this
Beavers are now present in such numbers on the Tay that they are beginning to exert their influence on the river. But will this

A few days after lockdown 1.0 (as it's now become known), I hiked far up the river on the least trampled path. As I fished into the evening, I decided to investigate a large eddy pool. As I climbed down the steep bank, I couldn't help but notice the signs of beaver activity – standing trees stems nibbled to a pencil-point, bark stripped from felled saplings and trees. Boy, these guys had been busy little beavers.

Wading into the eddy, I noticed immediately something was different, too. The bottom was neither stony, nor pebbly, nor sandy. It was covered in a bed of sodden, rotting twigs and branches. I stood and waited in the pool, looking for signs of rises either in the incoming flow, or – often a killer ambush-point in such pools – in the sweeping current of the back-eddy. All was quiet as day started to fade into evening, until a massive splash behind me broke the silence. Now, I've been fooled by this kind of splash before, believing it to be a massive sea trout leaping in the dusk, but these days I know better – these days, it's usually a beaver slapping its oar-like tail on the water surface to act as a warning sign to any other beavers out there.

I carried on my waiting game for rising trout, but this soon became a farce and pointless, as yet another beaver splashed to my left, then another one to my right…Within five minutes, I was surrounded by five beavers, all tail-slapping and then re-surfacing immediately, poking their heads back up to investigate me.

I have to admit that, at this point – standing in the middle of a big river, up to my waist in water, and surrounded on all sides by five wild animals over four feet long with powerful jaws and chisel-like teeth that make a tree look like it's been dunked in a wood-chipper – I felt intimidated slightly. Normally, beavers tail-slap and then disappear, but these guys were not shy. I think that, due to the lockdown, they hadn't seen a human since the previous autumn, and were a little curious. The tail-slapping and staring continued, and then one swam directly across my bows, so close I could have touched it with the rod-point. At that point, I decided to fish elsewhere.

As I waded out, beavers crashing everywhere now I was moving, making my way through a tangle of sodden branches, I realised that I had witnessed something that probably very few people in Britain had ever seen – just one of the many wildlife privileges and opportunities afforded to the angler.

Now, I don't believe that introducing beavers to UK is going to help our migratory fish stocks in the slightest, and in fact, they will prove to be yet another hindrance to any hopes of a recovery of stocks. This is because blockages in our streams and rivers are one of the biggest obstacles and problems faced by migratory fish on our rivers today – and beavers, being experts at damming streams and blocking spawning burns, are not going to help alleviate this problem. In addition, our rivers are too tightly managed – by farming, forestry and other land-uses – to allow the beavers to exert their full re-wilding influence, and therefore the beneficial effects, they can bring to the environment, such as flooding of the flood-plain, and ultimately braiding of the river.

However, in our tightly managed and controlled rivers and watersheds of today, where wild trout are concerned, then the influence on beaver activity might just prove to be different… as I was to discover a few days later, on another part of the river. (See next week's Blog)

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