A river worker is urging Scottish Natural Heritage officials to visit first hand the widespread beaver damage on the River Ericht at Blairgowrie, claiming the species are now at saturation point.
Robert Kellie (59) has witnessed the re-engineering work of the beavers over decades but now fears the river is degrading at an accelerated rate due to the extent of activity.
The beavers, released illegally into the Tay catchment, have been resident for two decades and have never been subject to population control on the Ericht. Now, he says, tunnelling has caused large chunks of the riverbank to collapse into the water.
Seven beaver lodges are active and deep holes have spring up in the bank, large enough to potentially injure walkers and horse riders using the way-marked path by the river.
The beavers have also now compromised hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of restoration work paid for by the tax payer in July 2017, to repair an exposed dump face.
Tunnelling below the reinstated site, which was planted with trees to bind the slope, has led to domestic rubbish leaching back out along the water’s edge, with plastics and clothes littering banks a hundred yards downstream.
Mr Kellie believes it is now only a matter of time before breaches occur in existing flood defences, with serious implications for adjacent fertile farmland.
He also fears for the rod fishery, with silt and gravel from the erosion leading to the loss of locally famous salmon pools.
Angling on the Ericht is worth hundreds of thousands to the economy but salmon are now passing quickly through the river due to the silting of previous holding pools.
He said: ‘I have invited SNH to come here. The beavers are amazing engineers of habitat but if there is no ability to manage them, at a certain point, they can also be extremely destructive.
‘This river has changed in nature, over the last 40 years, but the changes are now very, very rapid, particularly the erosion. Scottish Government has said beavers are here to stay. That is why it is important authorities get this right now. I don’t want to see no beavers here.
‘Personally, I have nothing against them but SNH need to see for themselves the realities at this site and provide a management plan that can be followed.’
Mr Kellie has also highlighted public health risks to SNH after contracting the parasitic disease, Giardiasis, whilst helping to mitigate beaver damage to a spawning tributary on the River Isla.
He lost two stone in weight and it was only after vets diagnosed his Border Terrier, Ben, with the same disease did doctors make the connection with Giardiasis.
Common in countries where beavers have long been resident, the condition has left Mr Kellie – a diabetic- with secondary anaemia and lactose intolerance.
A Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) spokeswoman said: ‘We have spoken to Mr Kellie on several occasions and advised him we would be happy to meet him to discuss his concerns.
‘We support the intention of Scottish Ministers to give European Protected Species status to beavers in Scotland. Beavers will bring significant environmental and other benefits to Scotland. However, we also recognise that beavers can sometimes cause problems to other interests, such as agriculture.
‘We are working closely with the Scottish Government and the agriculture sector to address this.
‘Humans, livestock such as sheep and cattle, wild animals like deer and foxes, and pets are all potential sources of Giardia. While beavers can carry this parasite, to date Giardia has not been found in any beavers in Scotland, despite targeted testing being carried out both of live animals and carcasses in Tayside as well as in Knapdale.’
Mr Kellie added: ‘Other animals can be a host for Giardiasis but that is two river workers now who gave caught it and my vet acknowledged there had also been more cases in dogs.
‘The beavers need to be trapped and tested for disease like they were in the legal beaver reintroduction trial at Knapdale. We need to know the risks. These beavers were released illegally and, if they are carrying disease, that is a concern to the public and dogs. I thought my dog was going to die and I wouldn’t wish what I have suffered on anyone.’