‘B-Day’ for wild beaver group

One of the River Otter beavers. Picture: BBC

One of the River Otter beavers. Picture: BBC - Credit: Archant

The future of a family of beavers living on the River Otter is likely to be determined today (Wednesday).

The animals are believed to be England’s only example of the rodents living in the wild, and were the subject of a packed meeting at Ottery St Mary’s scout centre which attracted nearly 100 residents.

The event formed the final part of a consultation by Natural England, which is processing a license that could allow the animals to be released back in to the Otter after they are tested for disease.

But in order to safely catch the animals, Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT), the charity behind the application, will require the specialist services of experts from Scotland and Bavaria - because nobody in England has any experience of trapping wild beavers.

DWT then hopes to establish a pioneering project which will assess the environmental impact of the animals over the next five years.

Dan Smith, from the charity, said: “People were really enthusiastic at the meeting, and we managed to fill the room when it was some of the worst weather we’ve had this winter.

“Some residents had concerns about their [the beavers’] impact on potential flooding and hopefully we managed to address those concerns.”

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Officials at Natural England are due to meet today (Wednesday) to make a decision on the license.

Experts estimate that at least nine of the animals are living on the river, and Dan said that the charity would need to attempt to trap and test all of the adults.

“We would have to trap them before the end of March,” he added. “Because by April some could be pregnant and it wouldn’t be safe.”

The outcome of the application is being watched closely by campaign group Friends of the Earth (FoE), which last year launched a legal challenge against government plans to ‘re-trap and re-home’ the animals.

Campaigner Alasdair Cameron told the Herald that the legal action was still live, but on hold pending the outcome of DWT’s wild beaver project.

He added: “In the event [Natural England] don’t agree to release them after they are trapped, we have the right to pursue the legal action again. We know that beavers are a native species, we know that they do well in these kinds of environments. But instead of letting them just live there, we’re tied up in this bizarre bureaucracy over whether they can stay.”