Devon Beavers 2020
Devon's wild beavers need your support
So many stories about 21st century wildlife are negative: insects decimated. birds declining, nature lost. Yet right here in Devon, a long-lost mammal is thriving again - and is helping other wildlife bounce back. But in the final year of the River Otter Beaver Trial there is essential work still to be done and we need your support - now more than ever - to make it happen.
Absent from our countryside for centuries, beavers can bring back life to our nature-depleted landscapes. These amazing animals' activity re-shapes waterways and riverbanks, creating wildlife-friendly homes for fish, insects, birds, mammals and flowering plants. Where beavers have returned elsewhere in Europe, wildlife has thrived, including on DWT's securely-fenced beaver site near Okehampton.
But Devon's wild beavers are only sure of a home until March 2020, when our licence to introduce beavers on the River Otter expires. What will happen after that? The government will make a decision on the future of Devon's wild beavers - and on possible beaver releases elsewhere in England - based on the evidence and conclusions we present. Evidence on the beavers' impact on water quality, wildlife and the surrounding landscape, farms and communities.
We need to raise at least £24,000 for this internationally important work - can you help Devon's wild beavers today?
How your donation can help Devon's beavers
A £25 donation could help deliver stress-free monitoring of the beavers.
One of the essential elements of the River Otter Beaver Trial is building up knowledge of how individual beavers and family groups are moving around the landscape. Knowing how often - and how far - beavers move through the river system will inform the management strategy to enable beavers and people to share the landscape beyond 2020.
Throughout much of the Trial, the team has relied on colour-coded ear tags to identify individual beavers. This is fine for identifying individual beavers in natural light. But many of our beaver records are captured after dark by infra-red cameras when the coloured ear tags are indistinguishable.
Most of the beavers have also been fitted with tiny PIT tags, an electronic device with a unique ID code. However at present these can only be read by capturing the beavers, a time-consuming process for the project team as well as being potentially stressful for the animals. Donations to this appeal will help us trial a new method of identifying individual beavers without disturbing them.
By using their favourite foods as bait, it’s easy to encourage beavers into a medium-sized open-ended pipe - a bit like a natural beaver burrow. And by adding a loop aerial around the pipe that can read the beaver’s PIT tag as it walks through, the team would be able to identify unique animals without any stress for the beavers. The aerials are custom-made and we need to raise at least £6000 to purchase an initial set.
Beavers feel safest in deeper water. In small streams and near shallow ponds they will build dams to create suitable habitat. People can benefit from beaver dams too, thanks to dams’ impact on water quality and their assistance in storing water after heavy rainfall, then releasing it slowly back into waterways. However, some beaver dams can be built in the ‘wrong place’ from a human perspective: next to farmland or a road for example. If a dam is removed there is every chance the beavers will rebuild.
The solution? Reduce the water level of the new pond by installing a pipe to direct flow around the dam. This only works if the inlet of the pipe is protected by a large cage so the flows of water are disguised from the beavers, meaning they can’t work out why the dam is leaking: hence the term ‘beaver deceiver’.
In unlicensed beaver releases, these kinds of land use conflicts have resulted in persecution of beavers. The River Otter Beaver Trial is demonstrating practical solutions that enable beavers and people to share the 21st century countryside, crucial to the prospect of beavers being allowed to remain after the Trial ends.
A donation of £500 would cover the cost of installing a 'beaver deceiver'
A Tale of two beavers
In 2016 two additional beavers were released to improve the genetic diversity of the River Otter Beaver Trial population. They were introduced into a pond adjacent to the River Tale, the Otter’s main tributary. The beavers quickly began coppicing willow around the pond and nearby grassland, creating more varied and open habitats.
They also began building dams on the release site, creating new ponds around the original one, and engineering canals to link them. These activities are exactly what we’ve seen on our secure beaver site in West Devon. But what the beavers are doing on the Tale is even more exciting.
Dams started to appear on the River Tale itself, creating larger areas of new freshwater habitat. The dams are far from being permanent structures, being washed out after heavy rains. But in the process, the beavers have restored natural riverbanks, creating more meanders that slow the flow of water, benefiting aquatic insects and juvenile fish. One larger dam has increased water levels enough to create many new channels running across the floodplain, re-entering the Tale a hundred metres or so downstream.
These changes provide a tantalising glimpse of how beaver activity could restore the natural dynamism of the whole river, with all the positive results for wildlife, and for alleviation of the effects of both flooding and drought, if other local landowners are supported to provide more space for nature.
Monitoring the beavers’ impact on this site involves aerial photographs taken from drone cameras, alongside traditional botanical surveys. The team also surveys the waterways to investigate the beavers’ effects on aquatic insects, to examine how dams are filtering debris and whether they are affecting migratory fish. This work is critical in demonstrating the benefits to wildlife from beaver re-introduction in the wild.
A gift of £200 helps support the team's research here for a week
Please help us raise £24,000 to give Devon's beavers the best chance of remaining in the wild beyond 2020