Two new beavers released at secret East Devon location

Thursday 26th May 2016

Beaver takes its first wild swimA female beaver takes to the water in its new East Devon home. Photo, Nick Upton/

• Two beavers released to join existing wild colony on River Otter • Successful – and sanctioned - release hailed as crucial next step in the story of England’s wild beaver • New arrivals will add to the ‘genetic diversity’ of the existing wild population

England’s only breeding wild population of beavers has grown thanks to the release of two further animals at a secret location in East Devon.

One adult female and one adult male beaver were released on Monday evening on private land close to the River Otter. The release was sanctioned by Natural England and was made by Devon Wildlife Trust as part of the River Otter Beaver Trial – a five year project being led by the charity which is studying the impact of England’s only wild beaver population.

Ensuring a healthy beaver population

Devon Wildlife Trust’s Peter Burgess was overseeing the operation and explained why the release of more beavers was made:

“There are already 12 beavers known to be living on the River Otter. Our DNA analysis has shown that these animals are closely related to one another. The genetic diversity of the beavers needed to be increased to ensure that we have a healthy population. So tonight’s release was a crucial and exciting next step in the story of reintroducing this keystone species back to the wild, restoring our river catchments. We’re very happy with how it went.”

Peter continued:

“This pair of beavers may move down river to mix and then breed with the existing population very soon, or they may decide to stay-put, pair up and breed. Then it will be their offspring which mix and mate with the other beavers. Either way the outcome will be the same; the genetic diversity of beavers living wild in East Devon will have been enriched. That is our goal.”

The female beaver of the pair was sourced from Devon Wildlife Trust’s own captive beaver trial near Okehampton. The three year old was described as being in ‘good health and ready to start a new family’ by Devon Wildlife Trust. The male is of a similar age and was sourced from a captive breeding programme based in Devon run by renowned beaver expert, Derek Gow.

The best place

Devon Wildlife Trust’s Peter Burgess said:

“This release site is the best we looked at. It’s quiet and undisturbed. The ponds are perfect, while they are just a stone’s throw from the river. I want to thank the landowner, a local family who have allowed us to use their land. Without their help this couldn’t have happened. We’ve deliberately not revealed the exact location of the site because we want the beavers to be left undisturbed while they get used to their new surroundings.”

Devon Wildlife Trust plans to monitor the progress of the beavers over the coming weeks. Their new home has been equipped with cameras, allowing the charity to get vital insights into beaver behaviour.

Peter Burgess said:

“We will have very privileged access to the secret world of beavers. These are animals that are active only in the evenings, at night and in the early mornings. They are also naturally shy and often difficult to see. The cameras will give us the chance to learn so much about how beavers behave and their impact on the local landscape – this is one of the main objectives of the River Otter Beaver Trial. It will be fascinating to see how this story develops.”

You can help the beavers

People can follow the progress of the beavers and see video footage of their release at the Devon Wildlife Trust website

The River Otter Beaver Trial receives no government funding and it is estimated that it will cost the charity more than £500,000 over five years. People can help the project by donating. 

What did beavers ever do for us?

The Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) is a large herbivore, a mammal that was formerly native to these shores and once played an important part in our landscape from prehistoric times until it was hunted to extinction in the 16th century for its fur, meat and scent glands. The loss of this charismatic species also led to loss of the mosaic of lakes, meres, mires, tarns and boggy places that it so brilliantly built. The beaver is a ‘keystone’ species and its absence has had a profound impact on the ecology of our rivers. There are few species which have such significant and positive influences on ecosystem health and function. For example, their reintroduction can help with:

• Alleviation of downstream flooding – the channels, dams and wetland habitats that beavers create hold back water and release it more slowly in periods of heavy rain.

• Increased water retention – by storing water and greatly enhancing the absorption capacity of the wider landscape, beaver activity also helps to sustain flows during periods of low water.

• Water purification – beaver-generated landscapes have been linked to the significant amelioration of diffuse pollution from human activities. Beavers have been specifically introduced into some river systems in Europe and North America to combat environmental degradation and pollution.

• Reduced siltation – dams trap silt, helping to reduce turbidity and sedimentation of water courses, reservoirs and lakes.

• Ecotourism - where beavers have been reintroduced on mainland Europe, there is substantial evidence of revenue and employment generation from ecotourism. The most appropriate sites for initial reintroduction can often be in more remote areas where alternative forms of livelihood from traditional land uses are in decline.

Find out more about the River Otter Beaver Trial.

The River Otter Otter Beaver Trial is a project led by Devon Wildlife Trust working in partnership with the University of Exeter, Clinton Devon Estates and the Derek Gow Consultancy. 

Tagged with: Species, Beavers, Devon, Devon Wildlife Trust, Release, River Otter, River Otter Beaver Trial