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Beavers are back in Devon

Added: 27th February 2014

Three European beavers have been filmed together on the River Otter in East Devon. The film taken by local retired scientist Tom Buckley follows previous footage showing individual beavers and many sightings by local people over the past two years.

Film shows a family group of beavers. It is highly significant because it strongly suggests that a small breeding population of beavers now exists outside of captivity. This would be the first time since the 18th century that European beavers had been breeding in the wild in England.

The beavers’ presence has been welcomed by local dairy farmer David Lawrence, whose family own the land the animals have been spotted on.

Devon Wildlife Trust were among the first to see the film footage which shows the beavers displaying relaxed and natural behaviour, grooming, feeding and interacting with one another.

The source of this beaver group is unknown. It is illegal to knowingly release beavers into the wild.

Devon Wildlife Trust has been running its own Beaver Project since 2011. An adult male and female were introduced to a securely fenced compound in North West Devon. The project was established to study the captive animal’s impact on their immediate habitat, water levels and water quality. Devon Wildlife Trust can confirm that its beavers remain in their compund and are NOT the source of the population in East Devon.

The Devon Beaver Project has been funded by Viridor Credits Environmental Company, The Truell Charitable Foundation and Westland Countryside Stewards.

The beavers filmed in East Devon are of the species European beaver Castor fiber. They are not North American beaver Castor Canadensis – the species that sometimes receive adverse publicity for the ‘damage’ they do to local woodlands.

European beavers were once widespread in the UK. They were finally hunted to extinction during the 18th century.  They were hunted because of their highly valued fur, medicinal value and meat, not because they were viewed as a nuisance species. 
European beavers exist widely across mainland Europe. Many of these beaver populations have been the result of successful, sanctioned re-introductions. A Scottish Beaver Trial established in 2009 has seen a small population of breeding beavers re-establish itself at Knapdale Forest in Argyll.

What does Devon Wildlife Trust think about beavers being back in the wild?

  • We believe that releases of European beavers should be properly planned. We do not support unlicensed releases of any animals or plants.

  • However, now that a small Eurpoean beaver population has established itself in East Devon we believe that they should be left alone and observed using a rigorous monitoring programme. This group of beavers provides us with a unique opportunity to learn lessons about their behaviour and their impact on the local landscape.

  • In principle we would like to see the European beaver reintroduced to England but recognise that a great deal of work needs to be done before this can happen. This new group of Beavers in East Devon could contribute to this process if they are subjected to thorough scientific study.

  • We believe that, given the right conditions, the return of the European beaver, a formerly native mammal, will be of overall benefit to river and wetland habitats in the UK.

  • We recognise that careful consideration of all potential impacts of any reintroduction is critical and that land owners and managers, as well as statutory agencies, must be engaged in discussions and in the development of reintroduction plans. This requires considerable thought, planning and resources.

    To find out more about Devon Wildlife Trust's Beaver Project click here

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