The early extinction date of the beaver (Castor fiber) in Britain

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Raye, Lee (2015)

This paper re-examines the evidence for the extinction of the beaver (Castor fiber) in South Britain and Scotland. Much of the evidence found by previous scholars is discounted as unreliable or outdated. A new study looks at reliable historical sources and studies references to the beaver in the context of references to comparable mammals, especially the most ecologically comparable [polecat (Mustela putorius), pine marten (Martes martes), otter (Lutra lutra) and badger (Meles meles)]. Each of these mammals was present in every period studied, meaning that medieval authors were reliable witnesses to the species' presence. The beaver is present in comparable numbers to the other mammals in South Britain 1188–1307 and in Scotland 1526–1600, meaning that as a species it was frequently recorded by humans. References to it cease after 1308 in South Britain, except a single anomalous entry, and after 1600 in Scotland. The idea that this reflects a sample bias or random chance is discounted. The paper rejects the late extinction scenario and concludes that the beaver became extinct by 1300 in South Britain and by 1600 in Scotland.
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