We should be eager to bring back beavers, concludes report on River Otter colony

One of the River Otter beavers. Picture: Devon Wildlife Trust

One of the River Otter beavers. Picture: Devon Wildlife Trust - Credit: Archant

The beavers living on the River Otter have benefited wildlife and people, according to a five-year study.

Scientists from Exeter University and the Devon Wildlife Trust found that the beavers had alleviated flooding, reduced pollution and increased populations of fish, amphibians and other wildlife.

Their study concludes that the beavers' quantifiable benefits outweigh the disadvantages, such as the minor flooding of some farmland.

The report will be used to help the Government decide whether to allow wild beavers, which are native to the UK, to be reintroduced in other suitable habitats.

The River Otter colony originated when a small number of beavers escaped from a captive population and were found living wild on the river in 2013.

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DEFRA originally planned to remove them, but the Devon Wildlife Trust persuaded it to agree to a five-year scientific trial, assessing the beavers' impact on their environment, funded entirely by the Trust and its supporters.

The beavers' population has risen from two breeding pairs in 2015 to at least eight pairs today, and they have dispersed through the main stem of the River Otter, the River Tale and some smaller tributaries.

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Their dams have helped to filter water pollutants such as manure, slurry and fertilisers from the river, and created new wetlands that provide habitats for water voles, amphibians and wildfowl.

The dams have also slowed the flow of floodwater through vulnerable areas including East Budleigh.

Steve Hussey from the Devon Wildlife Trust said: "The biggest impact the beaver population has had is above the village of East Budleigh.

"The University of Exeter scientists' research has shown that the beavers reduced the peak flows of water through that community.

"But, given the huge amounts of rainfall over the last eight days, I would not say beavers are a panacea or a silver bullet. They would be part of the natural flood defences that we could have in place."

Mark Elliott, who led the River Otter beaver trial, said there are 'overwhelming reasons' to reintroduce the species to the wider countryside.

He recommends providing financial support for any landowners who lose small areas of farmland to flooding caused by their dams.

DEFRA has extended the River Otter trial until September 2020 and will then decide whether the beavers can remain there.

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