The River Otter beavers have hit the national headlines again lately, following the political row over sewage discharges into rivers.

On Monday, November 1, The Times published an article saying the River Otter beavers – the only wild colony in England – are being threatened by raw sewage being discharged from an overflow site further up the river. The story was picked up by other national newspapers, one of which reported a ‘risk of serious harm’ to the beavers.

It came after the Government was forced to do a U-turn on whether water companies should be able to release raw sewage into rivers during heavy rain. There was a public outcry when the Conservatives voted to continue allowing this, and the Government was forced to announce action to reduce pollution from storm overflows.

The Devon Wildlife Trust has confirmed that it is monitoring the beaver population to see if there is a detectable impact from recent incidents of sewage pollution – but a spokesman told the Herald other species of wildlife have suffered much greater harm.

He said: “Beavers are large, mobile and robust animals, and while they spend large amounts of time in the river, their food sources are on land – namely bankside trees, grasses and other plants. This means they are not necessarily the best indicators of the full seriousness of pollution incidents.

“Pollution has a bigger and more immediate impact on other river wildlife. The diversity and numbers of aquatic insects, fish and molluscs in the river will have suffered. In turn this will impact other wildlife which feeds on them, including kingfishers and otters.”

He added that pollution from sewage and other sources is a particular worry in the River Otter because it is undoing the environmental benefits the beavers have brought.

“Beavers are creatures which, through their feeding and dam building, create the space and conditions for other species. Where they are present then rivers and wetlands are healthier and richer in other wildlife. The biggest impact of pollution in rivers will be to reduce this positive impact, reducing the benefits which beavers can have in restoring our rivers and the nature they support. "