skip to main content

European Beaver

What action is going on for this species?

The following will give you information on what work has been taking place through the Species Action Framework :

Species background

The European or Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) is a large, semi-aquatic rodent. It is extinct in Britain.

Why is this on the Species Action List?

The European beaver meets criterion 1b of the Species Action Framework as a species for conservation action.  It is listed on Annex IV (and Annex II) of the EC Habitats Directive.  The Directive requires European Union Member States to study the desirability of reintroducing such species where they have become extinct. 

The beaver also qualifies for the Species Action List since we now have a large amount of ecological information on the species which can inform management actions.  Effective species management action can be identified, namely the identification of a suitable site and the running of a reintroduction project, subject to the receipt of a licence.  The beaver is a charismatic species which would serve to raise wider biodiversity issues such as riparian woodland management, aspen restoration, wetland biodiversity and dead wood habitat.  There are few species which have such significant influences on ecosystem function and health.  A developed reintroduction proposal is likely to meet the IUCN guidelines on reintroductions.

Habitat, distribution and abundance

The European beaver inhabits riparian broadleaved woodland bordering freshwater standing waters or slow-moving streams.  It occurs from western Europe eastwards to the Chinese-Mongolian border region. The total world population is 634,000-732,000 animals but this is heavily weighted towards eastern Europe.  The species is extinct in Britain.

General ecology

It is totally herbivorous, and will feed on herbaceous and woody, broadleaved species. They favour burrows in banks as nesting places, but may build lodges of piled logs where they are unable to burrow.  Beavers sometimes dam streams to maintain water levels and construct canals which allow them to travel further away from the main body of water.

The animal is monogamous and lives in family groups. 

The European beaver is a 'keystone' species and its restoration would be beneficial to a wide range of species and habitats.

History of decline, contributory factors and current threats

European beaver appears to have once been widespread throughout Britain, including Scotland.  There are some paleontological and archaeological remains which, together with written historical information, suggest that it was present here until the early 16th century.  Its extinction is believed to have resulted primarily from over-hunting, particularly for the valuable pelts. The reintroduction of beaver to Scotland would contribute to restoring t he species to its historical range within Europe.

The 'Species Lead' at Scottish Natural Heritage  Tel 01463 725000