European Beaver (Castor fiber)
- Where? Knapdale Forest in West Argyll. Start exploring from Barnluasgan Information Centre.
- When? At dawn or dusk any time of the year, although beavers are least active in winter. You’ll need to be quiet and patient because beavers are very shy.
- Size? About the size of a fat spaniel dog, around 3 feet (1 metre) long including their tails.
- Look out for Ripples on the water, and listen for splashing water and gnawing sounds. At the water’s edge, look out for felled and regenerating trees, stripped branches (some with teeth marks!) and beaver canals.
Where do they live?
Beavers live mainly in freshwater lochs, and slow-moving rivers and burns. They are perfectly adapted for spending most of their time in the water, with warm, waterproof coats and webbed back feet and large, flat tails for swimming.
Beavers feel safe when they’re surrounded by water. If there are no natural ponds where they can live and feed, they build dams in rivers and lochs to create them. Water plants flourish in the still waters, providing the beavers with a regular food source, and a dam is a safe place to build a lodge for shelter and to rear their kits.
It might look as if the beavers’ work damages the woods, but felling trees and gnawing tree stems actually encourages new growth. Building lodges and dams, and forming ponds creates wetland environments that benefit other wildlife, all of which breathes new life naturally into the forest.
We were very excited to host the Scottish Beaver Trial, a unique conservation project with the Scottish Wildlife Trust and The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which began in 2009. The peaceful woods and waterways of the Knapdale peninsula offered exactly the right conditions for the project and five beaver families were brought here from Norway.
What do they eat?
Beavers are completely vegetarian, eating aquatic plants, grasses and shrubs during the summer months and woody plants and bark in winter. They often store food underwater in case the water freezes over.
When is the best time to see them?
You can see beavers all year round because they do not hibernate. They’re most active at dawn and dusk.
Look out for the beavers’ broad heads low in the water, and listen for splashing and gnawing sounds. While you might not always be lucky enough to spot a beaver, you’re likely to see the evidence of their work in the form of gnawed and felled trees, dams and ponds.
Where might you see them?
The best place to see them is in Knapdale Forest in West Argyll. Find out all about beavers and their return to Scotland at Barnluasgan Information Centre, then try the Beaver Detective Trail around the Dubh Loch and Loch Collie Bharr. You can also get a close-up of a real beaver dam by walking across the amazing floating pontoon on Loch Coille Bharr. As you explore the forests and lochs, look out for red squirrels, ospreys, otters and eagles too.