Beavers ‘help to prevent flooding’, says study

Scotland currently has two separate beaver populations – one in Argyll and another in Tayside

Scotland’s beaver population may help to prevent flooding, according to an academic study.

The rodents, which are living wild around the River Tay, were accused by some locals of contributing to flooding in the Perthshire village of Alyth.

But Stirling University researchers said beaver dams helped to mitigate flooding by storing and then slowly releasing water.

And they said beaver dams also helped to improve local wildlife habitats.

The study was part of a 13-year programme of research by the university’s scientists, who studied streams which drained water from 13 hectares of surrounding countryside.

Areas where beavers were known to have been active were compared with areas in which they were absent.

Pools created by the dams had 20 times more aquatic plant life, and the number of species in the surrounding habitat was 28% higher.

There were also fewer agricultural pollutants present, with the levels of phosphorus at about half of those in the inactive areas and nitrate levels 40% lower.

But the researchers said the benefits brought by beavers had to be weighed against the potential for occasional negative impacts on fisheries, forestry and farm crops.

Farmers and landowners have said the animals damage trees and cause flooding in fields alongside burns and rivers.

Dr Nigel Willby, of Stirling University’s School of Natural Sciences, said: “Beavers have been previously incorrectly blamed for flooding, particularly near Alyth where our study was conducted.

“However, all the beaver dams remained standing upstream of the floods during July and more recent flooding.

“Our work points to the fact that by having the beaver dams present on a stream the floods are locally mitigated, as these dams store and slowly release water, unlike an un-dammed, straight streams where water flows without obstacle.”

beaver dam
The research suggested beaver dams brought several benefits to the local environment

The research has been published in the Wiley-Blackwell journal Freshwater Biology.

NFU Scotland deputy director of policy Andrew Bauer said: “Statistically, it was always likely that there would be small pockets of land where the environmental benefit might outweigh the considerable problems being caused.

“There is no indication where the 13 hectares mentioned in this case are, but any benefits seen in localised areas will need to be viewed by the environment minister against the damage being done to productive farmland, long standing flood banks and established woodland on large parts of Tayside.”

Anne Gray, policy officer at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “We are not opposed to official trials of beaver reintroductions but this process has to be properly managed, which did not happen with the illegal release in Tayside.

“As we know from the trial at Knapdale, there may be some environmental benefits from beavers but this must be balanced against the negative impacts on many farm and forestry businesses.”

Eurasian beavers were hunted to extinction in Scotland in the 16th century, but the Scottish government has been trialling a reintroduction scheme at Knapdale Forest in Argyll.

The Tay beavers are unconnected to this official reintroduction, and are thought to have originated as escapees or illegal releases from private collections.

Last month, there were calls for restrictions on shooting beavers to be introduced after it emerged animals that were heavily pregnant or had recently given birthwere among those shot by landowners in Tayside.

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-35578369


Sting of the Day: Nottingham ‘barbaric’ badger killer Paul Tomlinson jailed

A man who killed two badgers in a “barbaric” attack using two dogs has been sent to prison. Paul Tomlinson, 29, from Nottingham, filmed the attacks and discussed it on social media, in June 2014.

Tomlinson, of Melford Road, was jailed for 20 weeks and banned from keeping dogs for three years, at Nottingham Magistrates’ Court.

The RSPCA described Tomlinson’s actions as “barbaric” and would not be tolerated in modern society.

Dog in a cageThe RSPCA said the dogs sustained injuries in the fights too

Tomlinson was charged with two counts of wilfully killing or attempting to kill a badger, contrary to the Protection of Badgers Act, on 5 and 23 June 2014.

He was also accused of keeping three Lurcher dogs for use in connection with an animal fight, contrary to the Animal Welfare Act.

Magistrate Pam Draper told Tomlinson: “You kept and trained dogs for fighting, enabling them to kill the badgers.

“You videoed this happening and posted it on social media and the dogs sustained injuries.”

Dog being led away by RSPCA officersTomlinson was also charged with keeping Lurcher dogs for fighting

After the sentencing Mike Butcher, RSPCA’s chief inspector, said Tomlinson went out to “deliberately attack” animals.

“That can’t be tolerated. In this day and age it’s a barbaric way to pass your time – it’s amazing how many people do this and how prevalent it is,” Mr Butcher said.

“It was organised, it was thought about, so that should always contain a jail sentence.”

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-35562978


Why does treatment for pets cost so much?

Cat under anaestheticCat under anaesthetic

The price of getting a pet treated at the vet is rising. Is it profiteering or are owners just more desperate than ever to save their beloved companions, asks Jessica McCallin.

The cost of veterinary treatment is rising by about 12% a year. Insurance is on the increase, too.

The BBC’s Justin Webb recently struck a chord with pet owners when he revealed that there was a final bill of more than £5,000 for having a chewed sock removed from the family dog’s stomach. It was covered by £30-a-month insurance but is an illustration of how expensive treatment can now be.

Last year, the Society for Practising Veterinary Surgeons surveyed its members about the rising cost of fees and found that nearly 76% of the small animal vet practices who responded had increased their fees over the previous 12 months. The cost of routine procedures such as vaccinations had risen 3.3% in a year. Cat dental treatment had gone up 17.5%.

The Association of British Insurers said in 2014 that the average cost of a claimhad risen by 7% from the previous year to £679.

Even seemingly straightforward treatment can run into the hundreds. Tesco Pet Insurance said that, in 2014, the average cost of treating a common conditionsuch as a bite abscess on a cat was £245. A lame dog typically set its owners back by £400. Costs can spiral, however. A cat involved in a road traffic accident might run up a bill of £875 and a torn knee ligament in a dog could cost around £1,200 to fix.

Antwanette Brightmore, a mother of two from the Midlands, currently spends £78 a month insuring her four cats. In the past she had dogs as well, and estimates that over the past 20 or so years she has spent £10,000 on pet insurance.

Antwanette Brightmore
Antwanette Brightmore with her cats

“I have noticed the premiums going up over the years, but I’m happy to pay them as I think part of being a responsible pet owner is accepting the cost of their healthcare. I’m not of the ilk that says that you can put an animal down if the vet’s bill is too high. And I think I’ve made my money back. One dog had heart problems and needed scans and ultrasounds and ECGs. Another had an MRI scan which cost £3,000.”

But the ABI estimates that, despite rising costs, only one in four dogs and just 15% of cats have cover. There are pitfalls with insurance. It doesn’t typically cover pre-existing conditions or routine procedures such as vaccinations and neutering. It’s harder and more expensive to get cover for older animals. Some will provide life-long cover, others only for accidents.

The real question is do the increases reflect a genuine rise in the cost of providing veterinary care? Or are vet and insurers exploiting pet owners’ attachment to their animals?

Vets say the costs increases are a reflection of the greater number of options available today. Pete Wedderburn, a practising vet in Dublin, takes the large increase in cat dental treatment costs as an example.

“A few years ago, if a cat came in with a painful mouth, a vet would typically anaesthetise the animal, have a look in its mouth and extract any rotten teeth. A relatively straightforward procedure. Now veterinary dentists will recommend that you X-ray the cat’s head too. It’s now more common to find X-ray machines at surgeries and this pushes the price up.”

Lots of new diagnostic and imaging equipment is being used, and new treatments introduced, says Sean Wensley, president of the British Veterinary Association. “These advances are expensive and there is no NHS for animals. And most veterinary surgeries are small to medium-sized businesses that can’t absorb these costs.”

But what of routine, often uninsured, procedures? If routine vaccinations went up 3.3% in 2015 and UK CPI inflation was only 0.2%, then is the difference just extra income for vets?

Jack Russel with cone
Jack Russell with cone

Nick Stuart, the SPVS president and a vet practising in south Gloucestershire, argues that this is in line with inflation, and reflects manufacturers edging up the price of the drugs.

Vets have also come under fire for the mark-ups they charge on medicines. The Daily Mirror recently investigated the issue and gave the example of a vet charging £20 for cat steroids which could be bought for £1.12 online from several companies which offer pet prescription services. All business will put on a mark-up, but is this level reasonable?

Stuart says that often these examples are not comparing like with like. “When you buy drugs at a veterinary practice, you are also getting a consultation, advice on how to administer it, what it will do for your individual animal. This doesn’t happen online.”

He does concede, however, that for chronic conditions, such as arthritis, where an animal may be on medication for a long time, it can often be cheaper to buy the pills over the internet.

Vets certainly say that their salaries are not rising as fast as the price of treatment. Peter Brown, who conducts surveys for the SPVS, says their latest figures suggest that newly qualified vets will earn £30,000 this year, a figure that is actually down 3.7% on last year. “After 10 to 15 years in practice they may be earning up to £50,000, but this is significantly less than their medical counterparts.”

An increasing willingness to pay for veterinary care is also fuelling the rising costs. “There was an increase in pet ownership after WW2, but also a change in the way we related to our pets,” says Abigail Woods, professor of the history of human and animal health at Kings College London and a qualified vet. “We started to have them inside the house rather than, say, outside in the kennel. We started to see them as quasi-human and form strong emotional bonds to them.”

A boy takes his dog to the Blue Cross charity for treatment
A puppy is treated at a Blue Cross animal hospital in 1953, where services were provided free of charge

Vets and the pharmaceutical industry realised there was money to be made from this, she says. “Pet owners wanted more treatment and the industry responded.”

And insurance pushes up the cost of treatment by allowing options that would otherwise be unaffordable. “A vet is not making more money off an insured animal,” says Wedderburn. “What insurance does is give the vet more options.”

But, of course, the more the insurers have to pay out, the more they will push up the premium to ensure they make a profit. At the moment, people seem still prepared to pay.

A vet treats a dog outside after his premises are blown out by a bomb. A sign reads: This dog was treated by a vet, but many were put down at the outbreak of WWII

At the beginning of World War II, a government pamphlet led to a massive cull of British pets. As many as 750,000 British pets were killed in just one week. This little-discussed moment of panic is explored in a new book.

The cull came as the result of a public information campaign that caused an extraordinary reaction among anxious Britons.

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35524322


Possible sighting of endangered Scottish wildcat investigated

Scottish Wildcat sightingFootage of the creature is being examined to establish whether it is a Scottish wildcat

A possible sighting of a Scottish wildcat has been made by a gamekeeper on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens.

Bruce Cooper, a member of Angus Glens Moorland Group, was checking CCTV when he saw the cat’s distinctive markings.

The Scottish wildcat is on the edge of extinction and the glens are one of six priority areas for its conservation.

Scottish Wildcat Action project officers will now carefully examine the images to establish whether it is one of the endangered creatures.

Mr Cooper set up the camera as part of the project’s drive to conserve the species.

He said: “The trail cameras were installed in the new year and I was checking the film for the second time when I saw the cat.

“It came to a bait of rabbit and it looks like the real deal, although that will have to be established now.”

Scottish wildcat
Scottish wildcats are on the edge of extinction

Main threat

Hebe Carus, Scottish Wildcat Action officer, said: “Reliable identification requires having a variety of different views of the cat and having the time to look for the seven main defining features.

“Only after analysing the pictures Bruce has sent can I confirm whether the cat displays all the defining features of a genuine Scottish wildcat.”

Ms Carus said she hopes a scented post beside the camera will capture hair for DNA analysis if the animal returns.

The main threat to the wildcat is interbreeding with domestic cats, which also spreads disease.

In order to protect the remaining wildcats, the project team aims to trap, neuter and vaccinate unowned domestic cats and obvious hybrids before re-releasing them into the wild under licence from Scottish Natural Heritage.

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-35501959