Beavers went extinct in Britain hundreds of years ago. But lately, they are making a successful comeback to Scotland’s river systems and can once again be seen in the wild. This guide tells you all you need to know about seeing beavers in Scotland, from where to spot them to my top tips for a responsible wildlife encounter.
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Beavers are elusive and fascinating animals. They are a keystone species, which means that many other species of plants and animals depend on them for their survival.
Beavers are also landscape architects who significantly shape the landscapes they call their home by changing waterways. They build dams, draining certain areas and flooding others. They can change the flow of a river and create ponds that offer habitats for other species.
In Scotland, beavers have made a successful comeback since the early 2000s. They were reintroduced by private landowners in enclosed environments, and later also in the wild. Since 2021, it is possible to relocate beavers from areas where they cause conflict with farmers, to other areas. This has allowed the Scottish beaver population to thrive even further.
Beavers live in river systems all over Scotland, but not all populations are entirely sustainable yet. If you’d like to see beavers in Scotland, it is important to know where to go and how to behave to ensure their continued success.
This article covers:
- The history of beavers in Scotland, including how they were re-introduced over time,
- My top tips for spotting beavers in the wild
- A list of places where it’s likely to see beavers, including tips for guided tours and experiences
History of Beavers in Scotland
For centuries, beavers were hunted all over the world. Their fur was highly sought-after for its waterproof and insulating properties. Fluids from their anal glands were used in perfume production. And at a time where religious people only ate fish on Fridays, they were even hunted for food – yes, beaver meat was considered fish back then!
At the same time, river systems were increasingly regulated, ponds and wetlands were drained to make space for farmland, and their habitat was reduced more and more. By the mid-16th century, beavers went extinct in Britain.
In Europe, many re-introduction programmes started in the 1970s and 80s. But in Britain, these ideas were met with pushback. Farmers and landowners in particular were against the idea of reintroducing beavers as they feared they would cause too much conflict on valuable land.
By the late 1990s and early 2000s some ecologically-minded landowners and activists began re-introducing beavers from Norway, Belgium and Germany (among others) in enclosed areas. They did this (not always with official government permission) to demonstrate the viability of reintroducing beavers to Britain.
The first official beaver re-introduction programme in England took place in 2002, and seven years later, in 2009, beavers returned to Scotland.
A great book to read about the story of re-introducing beavers in the UK is Derek Gow’s Bringing Back the Beaver.
Today, an estimated population of 1,000 beavers live on river systems all over Scotland. They can still cause issues with landowners at times, but since 2021 it is legally possible to relocate beavers from conflict sites to other areas.
Read on for my tips to spot beavers and where you can actually see beavers in Scotland.
Tips for Spotting Beavers in Scotland
Beavers are wild animals and as such sightings are never 100% guaranteed. That said, here are my top tips to increase your chances for spotting beavers in Scotland.
Head to the right place
This seems obvious to say, but the best way to increase your chances of seeing a beaver in Scotland, is to go to a place where they live.
Some good areas to spot beavers are Knapdale Forest in the Heart of Argyll, along the River Tay in Perthshire and other river systems such as the River Earn and the River Ericht. Keep reading for a list of places where it’s likely you’ll spot them.
Go at the right time of the day
Beavers tend to be most active from dusk until dawn. During the day, they are usually curled up in their burrows or the central beaver lodge.
The best time of the day to see beavers is about an hour or so before sunset. That’s why most guided beaver tours take place in the evening – something to keep in mind if you’re planning to see beavers during your Scotland trip.
No two beaver sites are alike, but one thing they generally have in common is that visitors have to keep their distance from the beavers. Sometimes that means you’ll be asked to stay inside a wildlife hide, other times you’ll stand on a riverbank or the edge of a pond while the beavers swim in the distance.
No matter how far or close you are to the beavers, I highly recommend bringing binoculars so you can take a closer look without disturbing the animals.
Photographers, pack a zoom lens!
For the same reason you should bring binoculars, you should also pack a zoom lens if you’d like to capture photos of the beavers. Don’t worry though, if you don’t have a big camera – it’s just as memorable to simply use your eyes and look at the beavers.
Have patience and wrap up
It is advisable to arrive at the beaver site before they come out to be active. That way, you can already in position without interrupting their behaviour. That also means that you’ll most likely have to sit and wait for a while until the beavers show up.
Wrap up warm, even in the summer, bring some food and drink, and maybe even a camping chair to be more comfortable.
Book a beaver experience with an expert
While beaver sightings can never be guaranteed, you can significantly increase your chances of seeing beavers in Scotland by booking a beaver tour with an expert. These might include guided walks, guided observation on riverbanks and ponds, time at wildlife hides or even canoe trips. Keep reading for a list of guided beaver experiences all over Scotland.
Where to see Beavers in Scotland
Argyll Beaver Trial in Knapdale Forest
In 2009, Knapdale Forest was the first place in Scotland where beavers were re-introduced into the wild – for the first time in centuries, beavers in Scotland would live in unfenced waterways. A small beaver colony was established in Loch Coille Bhar. The official trial period ended in 2014, but more recently new animals were added to diversify the genetics of the population.
The best place to see the beavers of Knapdale Forest is from the wildlife hide at the top end of Loch Barnluasgan.
Guided Beaver Tour: Argyll Wildlife Centre offers a series of guided experiences, including a weekly Beaver Walk, bespoke Beaver Tours and winter walks. Visit the wildlife centre to learn more about the local wildlife, chat to a ranger or browse their gift shop.
Plan a trip to Knapdale Forest and find out what else to do in the Heart of Argyll region.
Beavers at Argaty farm near Doune
Argaty is a working farm in the rolling hills of Stirlingshire run by the Bowser family. Back in the 1990s, the farm started working with the RSPB Scotland to re-introduce red kites. These birds of prey are scavengers but were persecuted to near extinction all over the UK. Today, there is a healthy population of red kites in Scotland – partially thanks to the contribution of farmers like the Bowsers.
Beavers arrived at the farm in 2021 following a change in Scottish law that allowed beavers to be relocated from conflict sites to new areas.
The beavers were introduced to unfenced ponds in partnership with the Beaver Trust and Five Sisters Zoo, and will likely spread beyond the farmland over the generations.
Guided Beaver Tour: The farm offers guided beaver tours on evenings throughout the summer for an opportunity to learn about beavers and see them in the pond.
Listen to ‘The Big Picture’, my podcast episode about rewilding Scotland that features the red kite programme at Argaty farm.
Beavers at the Loch Lomond Nature Reserve
In 2023, a family of beavers was successfully relocated from Tayside to the River Endrick on Loch Lomond. For now, staff are closely monitoring the beavers in their new territory but in the future the nature reserve may offer ranger-led experiences, guided walks and/or a wildlife hide. Watch this space!
You might also like: 40 Things to do in the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park
Beavers at Bamff Wildland near Alyth
Bamff is a small estate near Alyth in the northeast of Perthshire. It’s owned and managed by the Ramsay family and consists of 1,300 acres of farmland, woodland, wetland and hill.
The estate is best known for its efforts to rewild parts of the estate in order to create habitats for a wide range of species. The Beaver Project started in 2002 – before reintroducing beavers in wild river systems was considered viable in Scotland. Back then, the beavers were introduced to an enclosed environment to demonstrate the potential success of species reintroduction.
Today, the beavers are happily building dams and creating wetlands all over the estate. The best place to see the beavers is by the big pond. It’s just a short walk from the main track through the estate and various accommodation options.
Guided Beaver Tour: Bamff offers guided wildland tours around the estate, including the beaver wetlands, as well as specific beaver tours to the wildlife pond.
River Watch on the River Earn
Based in St Fillans in Perthshire, Aquila Ecology runs River Watch tours on the River Earn. The tours start and end with a short walk along the river, but the majority of the 2.5-hour experience is spent quietly observing the riverside. Here you’ll wait for the animals of the river to show themselves.
This tour takes place in the evening hours to observe wildlife at dusk. Species you might see include beavers, otters, kingfishers, dippers, bats, and others.
Beaver Tours in Blairgowrie
In addition to the canoe safaris, Perthshire Wildlife offers land-based beaver tours around Blairgowrie and Alyth. The shorter Riverbank Safari (2-2.5 hours) takes you to the banks of the River Ericht. The longer half-day tour (3.5-4 hours) includes more time exploring the wetlands created by beavers, as well as time by the beaver pools.
They also run adapted winter tours – chances for sightings are slimmer, but you will still see how beavers are shaping the landscape.
Nature Nuts Photography offers guided half- and full-day wildlife photography tours from Blairgowrie. Species you might see include beavers, pine martens, red squirrels, and others. Specific beaver tours can also be arranged.
Beaver Canoe Safari in Aberfeldy
Perthshire Wildlife together with Aberfeldy-based outdoor company Beyond Adventure have teamed up to offer a Beaver Canoe Safari along the River Tay.
The tour starts with a paddle on the river where you hear about beaver ecology and history, and learn how to spot the signs they leave in the landscape.
Then you’ll leave the canoes on a beach and walk to a beaver pond to wait for the beavers to arrive. You will see beaver dams, tunnels in the embankment of the river and hopefully beaver feeding stations.
Listen to ‘A Long Time Coming’, my podcast episode about the beaver canoe safari in Aberfeldy.
Urban Beavers in Perth
Hundreds of beavers live all along the Tay system, which includes the River Tay and its contributaries. At least since 2017, they have even taken over the city of Perth!
Perth is the first city in UK to have resident beavers. Signs of these urban beavers can especially be seen around Moncreiffe Island and the North Inch area.
If you keep your eyes peeled at the right time of the day, you might just spot the urban beavers of Perth.
Beavers in the Cairngorms National Park
After receiving permission for landowners, beavers could be released in three areas in the Cairngorms National Park as soon as November 2023. This would see the return of beavers to the Spey river system since they went extinct in the 16th century.
The identified sites are Rothiemurchus Estate near Aviemore, the RSPB Insh Marshes nature reserve near Kingussie and the Wildland Cairngorm estates which cover Glenfeshie, Kinrara, Killiehuntly and Gaick.
Find out more here.
Now, you know everything you need to know about spotting wild beavers in Scotland. You know where to go to find them, how to have a dam good chance of seeing them, and which guided beaver experiences are out there. That slaps!
Happy beaver watching.