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An up close look at the behaviour of wild beavers, from the safety of an office

Posted: Wednesday 11th January 2017 by DevonWildlifeTrust

Beaver on damBeaver caught on camera in daylight

Devon Wildlife Trust volunteer David Ireland gives his experience of studying the movements of the River Otter’s latest inhabitants through the medium of CCTV footage.

Mission: to find two beavers together using four cameras in a remote location

In mid 2016 I was given the chance or mission to study the movements of the two new beavers on the River Otter which had been introduced as part of Devon Wildlife Trust's River Otter Beaver Trial to help add diversity to the wild population there. It was a simple task; monitor hours of footage looking for beaver activity and recording what I found on a project spreadsheet, saving any video clips that might be of interest.

Perfecting the images

One of the first things we realised was that the four cameras which had been set up strategically to capture the best side of the beavers was that they weren’t quite in the right places. The ones set up in what turned out to be unused lodges were a bit redundant and the others on key runnels were a bit far away to be able to capture good views, particularly of the all-important ear tags which can be used to identify the mammals. Within a month and a few visits by Peter Burgess they were all set up ready for the action to begin!

General behaviour of the beavers

Overall I managed to spot lots of activity over the four months I studied them. There was lots of checking of dams, dam building and passing up and down the runnels. The equipment we were using was capable of storing a whole month worth of footage before it was swapped over and wiped so we had continuous data. I was able to save important clips of interest by clipping and saving on a data stick so we were able to store for posterity and for Mark Elliot the project officer to use in any presentations and talks he gives over the next few years of the trial.

Some special events

The process was time consuming and I had to fast-forward at quite a rapid speed to be able to review all the footage. This could have become tedious if it wasn’t for the odd occasion that I stumbled on a real gem. One of the best I remember was of a beaver seeing off an otter. I was initially excited as thought I had found the holy grail of the two beavers together but on closer inspection I could identify one of the creatures was in fact an otter, distinctively different being smaller and with a long tail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other interesting incidents included gnawing of logs, grooming and one time when one of the beavers was spooked by the motion sensor as if it heard the click of the camera or something (being infrared it was not the light coming on anyway).

Other species

Another factor of interest was the other species that make the release site their home and could be spotted going about their wild and seemingly undetected activities. Some of the best footage was of deer which were easy to spot and often remained in situ for a lengthy period often stopping to browse on the lush foliage.

 

Roe deer caught on beaver cam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other highlights were the tawny owls, which at one point I thought I was to witness a dramatic event when one young owl, fresh from fledging ended up in one of the beaver made ponds just about flapped its way to the bank which I was assured from Peter was just off screen! Jays, moorhens, robins and even rodents all made an appearance too.


End of mission

After a good stint I handed over the baton to another DWT volunteer who was interested in helping with the project. I hadn’t succeeded in my mission but within a week or so of taking over she had witnessed two beavers together, the lodges being used on occasion and also most recently the beavers were seen removing bedding so some really good developments!

If you would like to support DWT’s crowdfunding campaign for this fantastic River Otter Beaver Trial please visit: www.supportdevonbeavers.org today. Your pledge could help us towards our £100,000 target and help bring back beavers for good.

This project is supported by Clinton Devon Estates, University of Exeter, The Derek Gow Consultancy and Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
 

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