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Scottish beavers (and Cali cacti) get their chips

The fluffier face of tracking

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As a report from the US Computing Technology Industry Association shows the number of companies adopting chipping for one or more projects up by a third on 2007, it is nice to think that just occasionally, chips and other tracking devices can be put to uses that are relatively benign – or even green.

September is likely to prove a happy month for Scottish beavers. Or rather, European beavers, soon to receive leave to remain in Scotland.

The EU Habitats Directive sets out a list of endangered species – and signatories are asked to consider whether it is appropriate to reintroduce particular species within their own borders.

So far, the UK has drawn the line at wolves. But this month, a project led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and monitored by Scottish National Heritage will see the beginning of the reintroduction of the European Beaver onto a site in mid-Argyll. The project will last for some six years, and depending on issues such as survival rate, population growth, and impact on the environment, could well presage the full-scale return of beavers to Scotland.

Those concerned with beaver civil liberties may be less happy to learn that beavers will be fitted with tags, attached to ear and tail, to monitor their movements. One big beaver no-no will be any attempt to move out of their designated area – which is bounded on two sides by water – and head South.

The question of whether or not to reintroduce the beaver on the Sassenach side of the border is in the hands of Natural England, which has still to report back on the subject.

So a dedicated field officer will be recruited to keep tabs on where they are at all times.

Neither beavers nor field officer are yet in place. Quarantine restrictions mean that the former are being rounded up (in Norway) over the next few weeks – whilst advertising for the field officer will take place over the next couple of months. Or possibly vice-versa.

Across the pond meanwhile, cacti are getting the same treatment. The golden barrel cactus is a small and relatively harmless creature, retailing for around $100. However, when fully grown, a good specimen of this succulent can fetch as much as $4,000.

Over the last few years, Southern California has reacted to persistent drought by replacing non-native dark green lawns with more environmentally friendly – not to mention local - species of cactus.

Which is where current economic conditions and state-of-the-art technology come into play. As the recession bites, the number of people prepared to risk life and limb by stealing cactus has grown. The authorities in Palm Desert have hit back, installing hidden security cameras to monitor places where large numbers of the plants are located, and putting microchips in some cacti, so that stolen ones can be identified. So next time you get the urge to re-pot a wild cactus, beware. The odds on your being caught just got shorter – and if you happen to be in possession of a large stolen cactus then you could face up to four years in prison.

As we promised: new technology being used for benign purposes, though our more paranoid readers may be praying even now that no one from the Home Office is reading this. Still, we are sure that such a scheme – making sure that members of one species stay where they are put, don’t cross borders without permission, and have their movements constantly monitored – would be of no interest at all to our ever-so-liberal Home Secretary. ®

Bootnote

Scottish Wildlife asked if we could include this in the story:

“If you believe this is a worthwhile project, please be aware that none of this is happening for free. The Scottish Beaver Trial needs your support – which you can give by going to www.scottishbeavers.org.uk."

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