Castor fiber

Scope: Europe

Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Rodentia Castoridae

Scientific Name: Castor fiber
Species Authority: Linnaeus, 1758
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Eurasian Beaver
French Castor D'Eurasie
Spanish Castor Europeo

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern (Regional assessment) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2007
Date Assessed: 2006-05-21
Assessor(s): Boris Kryštufek, Holger Meinig, Jan Zima, Heikki Henttonen, Linas Balciauskas
Reviewer(s): Caroline Pollock and Helen Temple
European regional assessment: Least Concern (LC)
EU 25 regional assessment: Least Concern (LC)

The European beaver has shown good recovery across much of its range, as a result of conservation programmes. The highest numbers are found within Europe. Conservation measures are ongoing to prevent the population declining again and as long as these continue, there is no reason to continue to assess the species as threatened or Near Threatened. Now Least Concern.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: The Eurasian beaver Castor fiber was once widespread in Europe and Asia. However, by the beginning of the 20th century, over-hunting had drastically reduced both the numbers and range of the species. In Europe, only a few isolated sites remained: parts of the Rhone (France) and Elbe (Germany), southern Norway, the Neman River and Dnepr Basin (Belarus) and Voronezh (Russia). Reintroductions have enabled the beaver to return to much of its former range, and there are now a number of rapidly expanding populations extending from Spain and France across central and eastern Europe to European Russia, and in Scandinavia and parts of western Finland. Free-living populations of beavers are now established or establishing in most regions of their former European range, the main exceptions to date being Portugal, the south Balkans and Great Britain (Halley and Rosell 2002, Ceña et al. 2004). Detailed information on the status and distribution of the Eurasian beaver in each range state can be found in Halley and Rosell (2002), and information on the population that was translocated to Spain in 2003 can be found in Ceña et al. (2004). It is generally a lowland species, but occurs up to 850 m in Europe (D.J. Halley pers. comm. 2006).
Countries occurrence:
Belarus; France; Germany; Italy; Kazakhstan; Luxembourg; Norway; Russian Federation
Regionally extinct:
Moldova; Portugal; Turkey; United Kingdom
Austria; Belgium; Croatia; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; Hungary; Latvia; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Montenegro; Netherlands; Poland; Romania; Serbia (Serbia); Slovakia; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Ukraine
Present - origin uncertain:
Upper elevation limit (metres): 850
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: By the beginning of the 20th century, the global population had been reduced to eight populations, totaling approximately 1,200 individuals (Halley and Rosell 2002). Protection (beginning with a hunting ban implemented in Norway in 1845), natural spread and reintroductions have resulted in a rapid recovery in numbers and range, particularly in Europe. In 1998, the global population was estimated at 430,000 (Nolet and Rosell 1998), by 2002 it had reached at least 593,000 (Halley and Rosell 2002), and in 2006 the minimum estimate was 639,000 (D.J. Halley pers. comm. 2006). This is almost certainly a considerable underestimate, as both population and range are in rapid expansion (Halley and Rosell 2002, 2003; D.J. Halley pers. comm. 2006). Considerable further expansion in range and population, especially in western Europe and the lower Danube basin, can be expected. If current trends continue, the Eurasian beaver will be a fairly common mammal in much of Europe within the next few decades. However, populations in Asia are still considered small. In Mongolia, reintroductions have been successful and the population has reached 150, and in China the population has reached 800 (Halley and Rosell 2002, EMA Workshop 2006).
Current Population Trend: Increasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented: No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Beavers are adapted for a semi-aquatic life, using a variety of freshwater systems, including rivers, streams, irrigation ditches, lakes, and swamps. They generally prefer freshwater habitats surrounded by woodland, but may occur in agricultural land or even suburban and urban areas (Tattersall 1999, Halley and Rosell 2002). In northern Scandinavia, beavers may be found right up to the limit of the willow zone in the mountains, where knee-high willow bushes are the only woody vegetation and it is iced over for 8 months of the year. This is not preferred habitat, but they can survive there. In many places, beavers live both on the valley floor, and on the mountain plateau above (where it is wooded), with a break in distribution where streams flow down the steep valley sides. In general beavers should be able to live in almost any freshwater habitat where there are trees or shrubs and the gradient is not precipitous. However, patterns of recolonisation demonstrate a clear preference for still or slow, laminar water flow if it is available (Nowak 1999, Halley and Rosell 2002, D.J. Halley pers. comm. 2006).
Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The beaver's historic decline was caused by over-hunting for fur, meat and castoreum (a secretion from the scent glands), combined with loss of wetland habitats. Beaver populations were severely reduced in most countries by mediæval times, but the species clung on in marshes and other inaccessible places until the advent of efficient steel traps and accurate firearms in the 17th century; and then through to the 19th century there was a rash of final extinctions for these reasons combined with drainage of many of the large marshland areas in which the species clung on (all of the European refugia where the species survived, except in Norway, are extensive marshlands).

Today, beaver populations in Europe are expanding rapidly, and there are no major threats (e.g. threats of a magnitude likely to cause decline at the regional level). Competitive exclusion of the native European beaver C. fiber by its American cousin C. canadensis may be a threat in parts of Finland and north-west Russia, but it is not a major threat regionally. In Europe North American beavers are now confined entirely to Finland and north-west Russia, where populations are increasing only slowly (due to heavy harvesting). The former population at a reservoir near Paris has been removed, and populations introduced to Poland and Austria have apparently gone extinct in competition with C. fiber, the opposite of what has tended to happen in Finland and north-west Russia (it has been suggested that, due to differences in the life history of the two species, Eurasian beavers may have a competitive advantage at more southerly latitudes, whilst North American beavers may be more successful further north: D.J. Halley pers. comm. 2006). There are no serious prospects of further introductions (Halley and Rosell 2002, D.J. Halley pers. comm. 2006). The two species do not interbreed (Tattersall 1999). Roadkill is an important source of mortality for some populations (Tattersall 1999). Rapidly expanding beaver populations may come into conflict with humans in some areas, as they do some damage to forestry and crops. Such damages should be put into perspective: they tend to be less severe than those caused by other species such as deer and voles, but are noticed because beavers are a new and unfamiliar species in areas where they have been recently introduced (Halley and Rosell 2002).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: A number of conservation measures have contributed to the species' recovery in Europe, including reintroductions and translocations, hunting restrictions, and habitat protection. It is listed under the Bern Convention (Appendix III) and the EU Habitats and Species Directive (Annex V for the Swedish and Finnish populations, Annex II & IV for all others). In Finland, C. canadensis populations are controlled to prevent them spreading into the west where C. fiber occurs. Halley and Rosell (2002) recommend regulated hunting as the optimal management regime in managed landscapes with healthy beaver populations. Management of beaver populations should be at the watershed scale, except where large human-made dams form significant barriers to spread. Early provision of interpretation and public viewing opportunities is also recommended, as this provides a benefit to the local economy through wildlife tourism, and helps foster positive attitudes to beavers (Halley and Rosell 2002). This has been a successful feature of several recent reintroductions. Reintroduction to Italy has been recommended in a European Union/Bern Convention Nature and Environment Series document (Nolet 1996). Considerable efforts have been made to develop a beaver reintroduction programme in Scotland, and a full public consultation showed strong support for such a scheme among the general public, including in rural areas where beavers were likely to be released (Halley and Rosell 2002).

Citation: Boris Kryštufek, Holger Meinig, Jan Zima, Heikki Henttonen, Linas Balciauskas. 2007. Castor fiber. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2007: e.T4007A10313183. . Downloaded on 25 November 2015.
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