Beavers in the wild

Beavers in the wild

Male beaver on River Otter, photo David White

The River Otter Beaver Trial

The story of Devon’s wild beavers begins on the River Otter, in East Devon.

A population of beavers, of unknown origin, has been present on the River Otter since around 2008. However, when video evidence emerged proving that the beavers had given birth to kits (young) in 2014, the UK Government initially planned to have them removed from the river.

Beaver walks down riverbank after being released from box following health screening at start of River Otter Beaver Trial in March 2015

Beaver released on River Otter in March 2015, photo Nick Upton

DWT opposed their removal and, alongside local residents, we led a campaign to allow the beavers to remain. We presented to the government an alternative plan: to turn the situation into a five-year trial to monitor the beavers’ effects on the landscape and manage any conflicts.

The River Otter Beaver Trial ran from 2015 to 2020 – it was England’s first wild beaver re-introduction project, with beavers not in fenced enclosures but free to establish territories along the full length of the River Otter and its tributaries.

Beaver kit on River Otter

Beaver kit on River Otter by Mike Symes

Starting with two family groups, who were health screened and then re-released on the River Otter in March 2015, by the end of the five-year trial there were an estimated fifteen family groups throughout the catchment.

As part of the licence issued by Natural England, DWT was permitted to introduce more beavers to the River Otter. The presence of beavers unrelated to the original family group was important for the genetic diversity of the population.

Female beaver leaves artificial lodge and walks towards pond on release site near River Tale, May 2016

Female beaver released on pond near River Tale in 2016, photo Nick Upton

The first such introduction, of a male and female on a site on the River Tale in 2016, allowed DWT to study the effects of beavers on an upstream part of the catchment at a time when the other family groups were mostly in the deeper waters downstream on the River Otter.

Three more beavers were released in the Otter catchment by DWT in 2019.

In August 2020, the Government announced that Devon's beavers could stay – and they could spread naturally into other river catchments.

This was a landmark decision and one of the most important moments in England's conservation history: the first legally sanctioned reintroduction of an extinct native mammal to England.
Pete Burgess, Director of Nature Recovery
Devon Wildlife Trust

That decision means that the beaver population in East Devon now has a secure future.

In June 2021, the full story of the River Otter beavers was featured in this Devon Live news story.

Beavers elsewhere in Devon

DWT’s beaver conservation work continues, monitoring populations, checking on beavers’ welfare when necessary, and resolving any conflicts between beavers’ use of the landscape and the needs of landowners and the local community.

If you have a query about possible beaver activity near you, please visit our Need help with beavers page

Find out more about the River Otter Beaver Trial

Two main pieces of evidence were submitted to government towards the end of the Trial.

The 132-page Science and Evidence Report details the impacts of beaver activity throughout the catchment during the trial. You can find the full document on the Research and Evidence page.

Dam created by beavers on River Tale in East Devon

Beaver dam on River Tale

The Beaver Management Strategy Framework (BMSF) was developed to outline how the beavers on the River Otter would be managed for the next 10 years if they were permitted to remain. You can read the full strategy on the Research and Evidence page

Towards the end of the Trial in 2020, we produced the final project update newsletter which you can read below. Previous updates can be found at the foot of this page.

River Otter Beaver Trial - 2020 project update

River Otter beaver gnawing branch by David White

River Otter beaver by David White

You can see video footage of the River Otter beavers, along with visual evidence of the changes they made to wetland habitats on the Beaver videos page.

With no funding available from government, Devon Wildlife Trust joined forces with University of Exeter and with the major landowners in the Otter valley, Clinton Devon Estates, to manage and raise funds for the River Otter Beaver Trial. Expert advice on handling and managing beavers was also provided by Derek Gow, Dr Roisin Campbell-Palmer, and Royal Zoological Society for Scotland.

Funding for the River Otter Beaver Trial came from The Peter De Haan Charitable Trust, The Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, Garfield Weston Foundation, Wellcome Trust, Natural Environment Research Council, Tale Valley Trust and donations from local residents, DWT members and the general public.

Thank you to everyone who supported England's first wild beaver re-introduction project and the return of the Eurasian beaver to the English landscape.

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