Beavers pool effort in watery DIY

The dipper bobbing along the top of the dam looks oddly smart in this drunken landscape, his clean white bib reflected in the water below. All around is chaos. The beavers have felled most of the bankside birch, sycamore and other trees they like to eat and use for their dams.

Less tasty species, like larch, left marooned in the flood, have simply toppled over, exposing great root bulbs, which, now, are slowly rotting. Fresh shoots sprout from a recently gnawed willow; the cartoonish stump is pointed, as if it has been put through a giant pencil sharpener.

This process of decay and renewal creates a complex habitat. Dead insects fall in to the water from the rotten trees, providing food for birds, amphibians and fish. Moss and grasses are growing in the sediment building up in the dam.

Beavers pictured in 2000, newly introduced to Scotland after an absence of 400 years. Photograph: Kent News/Corbis SYG

Beavers work at night. During the day it is only humans tap-tapping away with their hammers, building a hide above the Cateran trail to allow walkers to catch a glimpse of the creature that engineered this bog.

Pink-footed geese fly overhead on their way back to Greenland, rooks caw in the beech trees, a charm of chaffinches sing from the dead branches of an alder, and black-headed gulls follow a tractor ploughing in the distance.


Come spring otters will hunt the vulnerable baby beaver kits. Photograph: Christopher Mills/Alamy

Spraint smeared on a rock announces that otters are here too. They have a rather one-sided relationship with beavers. The otters benefit from the increase in fish and invertebrates around the dams. Come spring they will also hunt the vulnerable beaver kits, obliging the mother beaver, twice the size of the predatory mustelid, to patrol the lodge.

The dams, constructed of twigs and branches laid on top of one another, are constantly being repaired and rebuilt to create a series of pools and canals where the beavers can move safely undetected and build entrances to their lodges and subsidiary burrows underwater.

The Burnieshed has been re-braided: forced into narrow rivulets it rushes and tumbles, waiting in pools it fizzes and foams. On Baikie Burn, another tributary of the Isla, the beaver dam has been cleared away, but not before a field nearby was flooded.

A swath of winter wheat is dead, drowned and scorched by the sun. The only sign of life is the tracks of a roe deer pricked into the earth. The burn flows quietly now, past a mink trap and beneath the road.

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