A ‘ghost in the landscape’ legally returns to Scotland

I must say I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when I read that the re-introduced European beaver population was to be added to the list of protected species in Scotland

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-22-18-00David Miller is the Special Advisor to the Scottish Government on the Environment so I guess it must be true!

beaver_pho34Photo courtesy of Per Harald Olsen via Wikimedia Commons

As a result of persecution, the European beaver went extinct in Britain around 300 years ago. As a result of their persecution and extinction I call such species ‘ghosts in the landscape‘. In 2009 a small trial re-introduction programme was undertaken in Argyll. The population has expanded from the original 3 family groups. There have been calls from some landowners to eradicate the beavers as there were concerns of the damage they might cause. Today however the Scottish Government has announced that the European Beaver will become a protected species and therefore will be allowed to spread and will not be eradicated. The full story can be read here.

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-22-12-28The John Muir Trust were obviously delighted with the news.

European beavers are often described as a ‘keystone’ species i.e. one that manipulates the habitat it lives in and as a result creates new and varied habitats for other species as well as providing important ‘ecosystem services’ for people as a by product.


This is an area where European beavers have been active in Latvia in Eastern Europe (I took this photo in the early 2000s when I visited the area) – it is clear that lots of interesting wetland habitats have been created and that the area also acts a flood storage reservoir in times of high water levels.

European beavers have also been re-introduced in Devon in a fenced enclosure, and this population has been the subject of considerable conservation work by the Devon Wildlife Trust and has been intensively studied by a team of scientists from Exeter University.

That research team led by Professor Richard Brazier has just published a paper entitled ‘Eurasian beaver activity increases water storage, attenuates flow and mitigates diffuse pollution from intensively-managed grasslands‘ You can download and read the full paper here.

The paper’s summary states

  • Beaver activity has resulted in major changes to ecosystem structure at the site.
  • Beaver activity increased water storage within site and attenuated flow.
  • Reduced sediment, Nitrogen and Phosphate
  • Dissolved organic carbon levels rose (but it is not known if this is problematic as flow rates are significantly lower – my italics).
  • Important implications for nature based solutions to catchment management issues.

 In light of all the current discussions around ‘natural flood management’ solutions (such as those at Holnicote – see here) it is thought that beavers in certain locations may play a useful role in reducing flooding by ‘slowing the flow’.

In addition there is another  unofficially re-introduced population of European beaver in Devon on the River Otter which the Government has allowed to stay for the next 5 years to determine their impact on the environment and local people. The Devon Wildlife Trust are campaigning to keep this population, so that this ‘ghost in the landscape’ can remain and flourish and also play an important part in reducing flood risk on adjacent land and villages.

You can watch this DWT video with Chris Packham which tells you more about their work and the campaign

The question, of course is what will happen now in England? My own view is that I believe that European beavers should be allowed to recolonise England and in so doing will play a useful role in providing new  habitats for wildlife whilst also playing a vital role in reducing flood risk. I very much doubt they will cause landowners and farmers any problems.


Beasts from the North

During my trip to the Scottish Highlands and the Lake District I managed to take some photos of some insects I have never seen before.

Tababus sudeticus 4

This is the dark giant horsefly Tabanus sudeticus – a female nearly an inch long! Fortunately it prefers the blood of cattle and horses to people. Saw one individual at Castle Urquart on Loch Ness and this one was taken on the National Trust property Aira Falls beside Ullswater.

Tababus sudeticus 1Substantially bigger than the horseflies (normally Tabanus bromius and autumnalis) that I have seen before

Tabanus sudeticusIt has been recorded in Devon and on Dartmoor but I have never seen it.

You might also be interested in Matthew Oates’ article on biting flies – see here!

Trichius fasciata 1Second up is a beetle – one of the chafers Trichius fasciatus – known also as the bee beetle or bee chafer. Its one of those animals you see in the books because it is so spectacular – finally I have seen one in the wild. Saw it at Loch Achilty, north west of Inverness in the Highlands. A Forestry Commission site.

Trichius fasciata 4A really striking beetle with long brown hairs on the thorax.

Trichius fasciatusOnly really recorded in the UK in the Highlands and Wales.

Tachina grossa 4

Finally another fly and another big species – its called Tachina grossa – or the yellow faced fly. It is very striking and large – nearly 3/4 inch long.

Tachina grossa 1The female lays here eggs on the larvae of other insect larvae – often an oak eggar moth – which the hatched maggots then devour and kill!

Tachina grossaA more cosmopolitan species – again on Devon and Dartmoor – one to look out for – unmistakable.

Swimming Loch Ness – the celebrations

I ended my last blog on the Loch Ness swim rather unsatisfactorily – there were no pictures of the victorious quartet – indeed it was all rather dark – most people were rather cold and everyone just wanted to to go home! Well to get around this unfortunate situation we all decided to meet up next day on the very beach we had been 18 hours previously to celebrate (this time it was sunny and light).

Swim 14I am a witness to these events – not the director – the credit for ideas behind this series of pictures must go to the swimmers, especially Andrea!

Had it been light and had everyone come ashore together it would have looked something like this

Swim 19Four honorary wild highlanders – quite right too

Swim 16Time for some fizz – well deserved – I had some too! Thank you very much.


Swim 17Cheers and look how far it is down the Loch…

Swim 18The swimming caps are thrown into the sky in celebration …. at least I managed to capture one of them.


Swim 22Lochend

 I have updated the Flickr account with some more pictures – I am promised more in the future …….

Swimming Loch Ness

Yesterday I was witness to a very impressive achievement. 4 ladies swam the entire length of Loch Ness (23 miles) in a relay without wetsuits! Holy moly I hear you say – indeed! We started the expedition at 5.15am at Fort Augustus and finished just after midnight – over 19 hours of swimming. Water temperature in Loch Ness was around 12 degrees……

The weather started off quite nice but did deteriorate as the afternoon progressed producing some heavy rain and waves on the Loch. I think we might have missed the worst of the English storms but only just. Here are a few photos from the event.

Swim 1The swimmers, boat crews and officiators the day before we plan to go – note blue sky and flat loch

Swim 2The swimmers – Pauline, Andrea, Helan and Caroline – raising money for the Devon Air Ambulance Trust, the RNLI on Loch Ness and a children’s respite home in Dorset – Julia’s House

Swim 35am on Saturday 19th July – getting ready to go

Swim 45.13am and Caroline is about is start the day off

Swim 5Caroline swimming with one of the three support boats

Swim 86am sun comes over the mountains of the Great Glen and reflects on the loch

Swim 6Hi Mum – hope you have a good day!!

Swim 7A swimmer followed by the convoy

Swim 9As the day progresses the gloom, mist and rain descends

photoHere is the weather map showing what happened next. Not a great day for swimming, watching swimming or photographing swimming!

Swim 11The bay at Lower Foyers

Swim 10A swimmer changeover – Pauline’s finished her hour and Caroline has just started hers.

Swim 13Here is Lochend at 10pm – still 2 hours to go

Swim 12

Andrea’s ashore with hubby Ian and son Ethan.

The photo set can be seen here – will add some pictures in the coming days.

Sorry haven’t got any better pictures of the end – it was dark, late and were standing in the wrong place despite the long wait and it all happened rather quickly. A big thanks to all involved – lots of money raised for charity and it has highlighted a great sport in a fabulous part of the country – fancy giving it a go?


Blown away by Glen Affric

We visited the legendary Glen Affric National Nature Reserve yesterday – first time I’ve been and I was blown away. What a place – miles and miles of Caledonian pine forest, rivers, lochs and uplands. Owned and managed by the Forestry Commission – brilliant. Seems very much like a wilderness to me.

Glen Affic 1The River Affric just up from Dog Falls

Glen Affic 2A mighty native Scot’s pine

Glen Affic 7You can almost see an ancient face in the pine bark

Glen Affic 8Coire Loch – home of the rare northern emerald dragonfly

Glen Affic 6Water lilies on the loch

Glen Affic 4Scotch Argus- new species for me

Glen Affic 3The large  ground beetle Carabus glabratus – a Scottish speciality – see the distribution map below

Carabus glabratus

Carabus glabratus – map via NBN

Glen Affic 5Hound of the wild, grey shadows beneath the trees, stalk through our dreams….

Glen Affic 9Great interpretation – simple but effective