Beaver surveys #2

All you regular blog readers will already know about the exciting arrival of beavers at Loch Lomond NNR – catch up with what’s been going on here.

Beavers are recently re-established in the wild in Scotland and have made their way to the north and east of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, including Loch Lomond NNR on the River Endrick where there’s lots of suitable beaver habitat.

Following the initial discovery of beavers on the reserve, we wanted to find out more: how many are there? Where are they going on the reserve? Are they just moving through the area or establishing a new territory? Lucky for us, beaver activity is easy to detect as their behaviour leaves behind lots of field signs to look out for, such as felled and gnawed trees, ring barking and stripping, dams, lodges, burrows, canals and tracks.

In early spring I started surveying for beaver signs on the reserve. This is the best time of year to survey, before everything gets too green and leafy, as field signs are less obscured. Also feed signs are easier to detect as beavers feed on woody vegetation over winter and more vascular plants in summer. I covered a 2km stretch of the river, around the area where beaver activity was first seen back in August and where RSPB volunteers had discovered fresh signs. The average beaver territory is 3km of shoreline but varies depending on the habitat so the surveys should encompass a big chunk of the area they are using.

Following the edge of the waterway I recorded signs within 10-20m of the river’s edge, where most beaver activity occurs, and put up trail cameras at the main feeding stations.

Each week I returned to discover more evidence of beaver nibblings clustered at two main feeding sites. By assessing the freshness of the signs you can tell that some were older, confirming that the culprit had been around for a while.

Fresh teeth marks left by stripping bark for eating
Old teeth marks in the same spot 1 month later

From the results of these surveys and trail camera footage, it seems likely that there is just one individual around, that returns to feed on the same patches most nights. As the field signs are of mixed age, and because we filmed the same beaver back in August last year, it seems likely that this is an active resident setting up a new territory, rather than a disperser passing through.

We hope that the beaver is here to stay and who knows, maybe it will be joined by a beaver mate in the future!

But it’s not just beavers that are in this area! I came across lots of tracks on my surveys, including roe deer, geese and otters but no beaver prints. Beavers have very distinctive tracks (if you can find some clear ones) as they have a large webbed back foot and a much smaller, unwebbed forepaw. Their tracks are difficult to detect because they drag their wet heavy bodies and tails over them, unlike otter prints which can be really clear.

Otter tracks

I followed these otter tracks all the way to one of the beavers main feeding stations…

And look!

Caught on camera!

Beavers are really fascinating animals to learn about and even more so to watch – expect lots of trail camera videos in the next blog and thanks to Ian Fulton, an RSPB volunteer for the footage.

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1 Response to Beaver surveys #2

  1. Pingback: Beaver surveys #3 | 2 bogs, a swamp and some islands

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