Sunday book review – Bringing Back the Beaver by Derek Gow

Derek Gow is sometimes described as a force of nature, and this book demonstrates that he most certainly is a force for nature.

It’s a good read – very entertaining, very informative and the views of someone who knows what’s what.

It is an entertaining book – there are lots of stories about who did what when, and there is a lot of humour wrapped up in them. The author tells stories against himself too, which is endearing. But it is very informative and many readers, including this one, will learn much about a British species that has been so long absent from our rivers we tend to think of it as a stranger whereas the whole point of the book is that we should feel at home with Beavers. Having said that, they aren’t perfect neighbours in all respects and those aspects are not avoided.

Derek Gow comes across as a real character who is driven by the need to rewild parts of our countryside and with the Beaver as a main component of that rewilding. He is charmingly outspoken about what needs to be done and who needs to do it. Scottish landowners, whom Derek likens to ignorant frontier settlers, may not find his words quite as amusing as I did. And when the former Secretary of State for the Environment in England, Owen Paterson, reads that Derek felt that he was no friend of nature, he may not be amused. Derek can get away with this type of thing because he is a force of nature, because he knows what he is on about and because he is a farmer – he’s difficult to pigeonhole as a normal conservationist.

If you oppose the reintroduction of the Beaver then you should read this book – if nothing else I suspect you will grow to like the author. If you feel a bit ambivalent about the idea then read this book mostly for reassurance to dispel your concerns. If you are up for it already, you’ll love the book but you will be reminded of a few slightly uncomfortable truths.

This is a book that needed to be written and it now needs to be read widely, and its author was just the right person to provide this entertaining but important book.

And the Foreword by Isabella Tree is good too.

Bringing Back the Beaver: the story of one man’s quest to rewild Britain’s waterways by Derek Gow is published by Chelsea Green.


8 Replies to “Sunday book review – Bringing Back the Beaver by Derek Gow”

  1. I enjoyed it too. Lots of laughs which is rare in a book about conservation. I agree we need Beavers back as soon as possible. But the methods Derek employs to achieve this worry me a little. He seems so fed up with beauracracy that in some cases he ignores it and goes ahead with projects anyway. Some of the initial beaver projects contravened the WCA and while we might consider that to be trivial, we don’t think the same thing when keepers ignore it.
    There is a danger in picking and choosing which bits of the wildlife legislation we agree with and are happy to follow.

    Another danger with this approach is that it winds up landowners so much that it makes future projects for this and other species much more difficult to get off the ground. We are already seeing this with Beavers so what chance Lynx and Wolves, both projects that should surely be taken forward.

    And if you are relaxed about beavers (and even wolves and lynx), you may not feel the same way about some future projects. Already there are discussions about marmots, pikas and reindeer in the uplands, as well as pond turtles, wildcats, black storks and night herons in the lowlands. There are others, even more surprising, on the radar.

    Maybe some of those would be good but I think they all need careful consideration rather than someone deciding they are going to go ahead and get on with them, and not worry too much about beauracracy and the legislation.

    1. Why do people never mention Brown Bear? much less likely to be a problem than Wolf although I would like to see both back along with Lynx. The politicians are the problem and the big vested interests ( all of whom no sweet FA about wildlife and ecology) they listen to not folk like Derek.

      1. I agree. It’s attacks on people I guess. Very rare but they do happen. That one is probably a long way down the line!

    2. Can’t say you are wrong Ian, but as you know and as somebody close to this blog recently pointed out, if you want to kill things, you get immediate help from NE, if however you want to bring things back that should have always been here, then you get years of obfuscation, obstacles, objections and zero help.
      Reintroductions can cause issues certainly, you have only to look at the Forest of Dean with their wild boar to see that. A few wolves would certainly help there and I think would now be welcomed by the local gardeners!
      As for reindeer, I quite liked seeing the herd on the Cairngorms.

      1. Yes fair comment, though killing things (small numbers of things) doesn’t have the same long term potential for impacts as (re)introducing something not present. And we shouldn’t forget that there is a sizeable minority who object to species like beaver. If they think it is being imposed on them with no chance to voice concerns or agree management mechanisms in advance, they will fight even harder against bigger and more problematic species. But I agree it should be far easier than it is.

    3. I think the problem is usually political rather than ecological or even economic. A bit of reforestation in the uplands accompanied by widespread beaver translocation there could avert tens of millions of pounds of flood damage, and the associated human misery, to good quality farmland as well as homes in the lowlands. Yet up here in Scotland with an ‘unofficial’ beaver population it’s been framed by certain interests as nothing but a destroyer of tattie fields. That needs challenging and that’s what Derek does, just wish the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, WWF etc would join in.

      People whose homes could be saved from floods by the presence of beaver higher up have been left out of this discussion, I bet hardly any have been informed about the potential for it and that’s a bloody scandal. With our rainy climate, extensive uplands which are currently extremely poor in terms of water retention there can be very few countries that have ever had as much to gain as the UK from a bit of tree planting and letting beavers do their thing, yet we’re behind practically everybody else.

      As for the rest I really wish people got worked up about snowberry and cherry laurel choking the native fauna and flora as much as they do about some proposed reintroductions. I do think we need to be widening our perspective although I don’t believe the marmot was ever native here and the steppe pika died out pretty quick after the last ice age when the climate became more temperate, the pond terrapin probably died out when it got colder and I’m not sure it’s yet warm enough for them to breed here. We’ve almost certainly lost species we don’t even know about through lack, or virtual lack, of evidence. They’ve found a couple of ankle bones from the pygmy cormorant in one part of the fens which IMHO indicates it was almost certainly a resident here and we should look at bringing it back. Would its existence here help in its global conservation and add a fascinating species to our fauna – yes. Would it cause ecological damage here which it somehow doesn’t on continental Europe co-existing as it does with virtually the same suite of species (and others) we have? Extremely unlikely and if it did rounding up pygmy cormorant and shipping them to Europe would hardly be the equivalent to ridding ourselves of Japanese knotweed. Black stork and night heron why not? I saw loads of night herons in Hungary and it made my heart sink we didn’t have them in the UK apart from the free flying colony at Edinburgh zoo. They used to live here and should be back, black storks almost certainly did so too and I watched some beautiful film of a nesting pair earlier this year – gobsmacking. This isn’t about adding species to the UK’s fauna because they look nice or are interesting which would be ridiculous, that just happens to be a bonus.

      I too spend a lot of time pondering over the role of both reintroductions and even genuine introductions in conservation and ecological restoration. It is something we need to discuss ASAP we need to look at all options for saving wildlife our toolkit needs to be bigger. I’ve got a ludicrously long list of guest blogs on very many topics I eventually want to write and submit for this blog and one is about introductions good and bad, working title ‘Should We Introduce the Beaver to Ireland?’ – technically it’s non native there, but as on ‘the mainland’ it would help reduce the financial cost and human misery of flooding – should that option be denied the people of Ireland because of what is a pretty irrelevant technicality TBH (just missed swimming over before sea levels rose)? Yes clearly the wildlife of Ireland has survived without them, but now that it’s beleaguered like everywhere else the beaver could provide a much needed boost for much of it. There’s also the issue of biological controls to deal with genuine invasive nasties and when appropriate establishing populations of suitable endangered species outside of their natural range as a last ditch measure at least.

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