‘Ground-breaking’ decision allows River Otter beavers to stay
- Credit: Alex Walton Photography
The colony of wild beavers living on the River Otter will be allowed to stay permanently.
The announcement by Defra has been described by the Devon Wildlife Trust as ‘the most ground-breaking government decision for England’s wildlife for a generation’.
It follows a five-year project by the trust, overseeing the beavers and their impacts on the environment, which concluded that their presence had been good for people and wildlife.
Their dams in the river have reduced flood risk in some areas, and improved the water quality by filtering out pollutants. The river’s fish, birds, insects and mammal populations have benefited from better natural habitats.
Although the report highlighted some localised problems for a small number of landowners, it found that they had been successfully managed with support and intervention from Devon Wildlife Trust.
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The study also found that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of people would like to see beavers, a native species, returning to the country’s waterways.
The River Otter beavers were first discovered in 2013 and it is not clear where they came from.
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At first they were threatened with removal by Defra, which feared they could carry diseases.
But the Devon Wildlife Trust successfully campaigned for a five-year trial to monitor the beavers, and this was granted. There are now around 15 family groups living on and around the river.
The trust hopes the successful trial will pave the way for beavers to be re-introduced in other parts of the country.
Peter Burgess, Director of Conservation at Devon Wildlife Trust, said: “This is the most ground-breaking government decision for England’s wildlife for a generation. Beavers are nature’s engineers and have the unrivalled ability to breathe new life into our rivers and wetlands. Their benefits will be felt throughout our countryside, by wildlife and people.”
Mark Elliott from the trust has led the charity’s beaver work since its beginnings in 2010. He said: “Whilst this announcement by Defra is very welcome, it’s now vital that decisions are made on the national status of beavers that allow them to be reintroduced into other river systems in England.
“There also needs to be funding to support landowners who wish to allow beavers to restore wetlands on their land, and to assist landowners who do not wish beavers to affect their farming practices.”