The Beaver’s Journey

Norwegian survivors

A man inspecting a beaver lodge

Although the beaver disappeared from most of Scandinavia, a beaver population had survived in the Åmli area of Norway.

Beaver gnawing on wood, Karl-Heinz Frommolt (collector),
Museum fuer Naturkunde Berlin, Tierstimmenarchiv, CC BY-NC-SA

This was largely thanks to Nicolai Benjamin Aall (1805-1888). Nicolai took over the Næs Jernverk ironworks in Tvedestrand after his father, Jacob Aall, died in 1844. He was an avid hunter - he is said to have personally shot about 40 bears - with a private taxidermist on his staff. Nicolai also had a collection of world-class insects and birds.

Some time after taking over the ironworks in 1844, Nicolai banned the hunting and trapping of beavers on the company's property. The ban applied not only to the area around the ironworks, but also to the extensive properties the company had 40 kilometers inland, which was used for the production of trees that were to become charcoal.

We do not know exactly why Nicolai decided on this ban, but given his active interest in hunting as a leisure activity, it is not unlikely that Nicolai had seen a clear decline in the number of beavers he could hunt. Robert Collett, a zoology professor who made surveys of beavers in Norway in the late 1800s, gave Nicolai's far-sighted ban the credit for saving the Norwegian beaver from dying out.

Restrictions on beaver hunting were also a national concern in Norway.

The Law on the Extermination of Predators and the Conservation of Other Game, which Professor Halvor Heyerdal Rasch (1805-1883) drafted in 1845, prohibited beaver hunting for a period of ten years. A version of the law passed in 1863, but was only enforced during the months of August, September and October, and only by landowners.

In the 1890s, when there was a discussion about building a railway from Arendal to Åmli, Collett lobbied for stronger protection of beavers.

The danger Norway's largest beaver population is exposed to through the railway facility through Åmli, is in my opinion, so great that its total or at least partial destruction must be considered certain, if it is not in some way assisted.

Robert Collett's letter to the Royal Department of the Interior

In 1895, beavers were protected throughout the year in the region, followed by total protection throughout Norway in 1899. In 1910, the beaver population was estimated to have already increased to 1,000 animals.