Beavers in Britain

A welcome return or an unwanted pest?

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Photo by niklas_hamann on Unsplash

What is a beaver?

Beavers are large, semi aquatic rodents which can be found in many European, Asian and American countries. There are two species, the Eurasian beaver and the North American beaver.

Why were they extinct?

Beavers were hunted in the past for their fur, meat and castoreum. The fur was used primarily to make hats, but it was also used for collars, cuffs, muffs and even whole coats. Their meat is high in protein and the tail was considered a delicacy by some, so although the animals were trapped initially for their fur, the meat was an added bonus for the hunters.

Beavers in Scotland?

The first sightings of wild beavers living in Britain in recent times, were in Tayside, Scotland, between 2001 and 2005. It is not known where the animals came from, but it is likely they escaped from a wildlife park or were possibly released illegally. By 2010 the sightings included young beavers, known as kits, which meant they were successfully breeding in the wild. Stories started to appear in the press, and the authorities started to take an interest.

Beavers in England?

There may have been beavers living in south Devon as early as 2005, with various sightings in 2008. By 2014 it had become obvious they were successfully breeding, and the authorities threatened to remove the animals from the river Otter area. However, the Devon Wildlife Trust opposed their removal and presented Natural England with a plan to let them remain as part of a five year trial.

Beavers in Wales?

In 2014 two beavers were sighted in the river Dyfi, mid Wales, and since then they have started to breed, with numbers now estimated at around ten. There have been no official release projects in Wales so far, meaning the two original beavers must have escaped or been introduced illegally.

What good can they do?

Beavers are known as a keystone species, because a small number can change their habitat significantly, often benefiting other wildlife. When beavers build dams they help create a wetland habitat, which then encourages new species to the area. These include amphibians, birds, bats, fish, insects and plants.

What problems can they cause?

The reintroduction of beavers to Britain is not welcomed by everyone. If they settle in an area where there are no lakes or large rivers, beavers will construct dams across streams or small rivers. These slow the flow of water to a trickle and create deep pools behind them. Depending on the terrain, the area that becomes submerged can be quite extensive. This may cause problems for land owners, particularly farmers, who use the land for grazing or growing crops.

The future for beavers in Britain

After a shaky start, beavers are now back in Britain, but only in a few isolated locations. However there are a number of enclosed beaver projects already in place, with more planned for the future. Each group released is monitored and studied carefully, and all this information helps guide new schemes.

I am a Cornish design engineer who likes writing, reading, photography, technology, nature, history, cars, aeroplanes, motorbikes and all things Cornish.

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