Charity calls on public to make views on beavers known

Charity calls on public to make views on beavers known

Male beaver on River Otter, photo David White

• Defra announces public consultation on future of beavers in England
• ‘Outstanding success of Devon’s wild beavers should be allowed to happen elsewhere’ says charity
• Public urged to show support for wider reintroduction of once-native species

A charity which has pioneered the successful reintroduction of beavers to a Devon river is asking the public to back calls for a wider return of the animals to other parts of England.

In August 2020 the Department for Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) granted permission for a population of wild beavers to remain living free on the River Otter in East Devon. The decision came after a five-year trial (2015-2020) led by the charity Devon Wildlife Trust had shown the mammal’s positive impacts on local nature, water quality and flood alleviation.

Now Defra is asking the public whether they wish to see beavers reintroduced to other rivers in England. The consultation is now open to anyone to respond to with their views on what the future of beavers should be.

The East Devon beavers were the first wild colony of the ‘semi-aquatic mammals’ to have bred in England since they were hunted to extinction more than 400 years ago. There are now thought to be 20 beaver families living in the River Otter and its tributaries.

Harry Barton, Devon Wildlife Trust Chief Executive, said:

“Beavers are the most amazing animals, capable of transforming our rivers and wetlands for the better. Our work on the River Otter Beaver Trial, and the work of The Wildlife Trusts in Scotland and elsewhere, has shown that these natural engineers can provide an impressive range of services from storing climate-changing carbon to flood alleviation. Our experience has also shown that beavers can thrive in a modern landscape, and that we can live happily side by side with these fascinating and engaging creatures. We believe it’s a top priority for nature’s recovery to see their return to rivers across the UK.

Beavers are wild animals and will need managing. So it’s vitally important that we reintroduce them in a planned and sensible way, and that we have a toolkit of management techniques available so we know exactly how to deal with issues if and when they arise. And if we want to maximise the benefits beavers can bring, farmers and land managers will need supporting with advice and incentives to make space for the valuable wetlands they create.

The Wildlife Trusts have been calling for an ambitious national plan for beavers for some time, so I’m delighted to see the launch of the consultation today. This is the start of a vitally important conversation about the future of these once widespread animals, and I would urge anyone who cares about their future in the English landscape to respond.”

Devon Wildlife Trust, which has more than 40,000 supporters, plans to base its own response to Defra’s consultation around four key asks:

  • Formally recognise beavers as a resident native species in England, as has already been done in Scotland.


  • Ensure beaver populations thrive in the wild by supporting carefully targeted reintroduction projects, bolstering populations where necessary to ensure their long-term health.


  • Help landowners to make space for watercourses and wetlands created by beavers by providing appropriate schemes and funding programmes.


  • Adopt systems of management that ensure beavers are properly protected in a flexible and simple way that avoids excessive administrative burdens on land-managers and regulators.

Photo credit, David Plummer

Beavers were hunted to extinction in England more than four centuries ago. In 2013, a family of beavers – which can grow to more than 20kg and live on an exclusively vegetarian diet (they do not eat fish) – were found to be living on the River Otter in East Devon. The population’s origins are still unclear and, at first, they were threatened with removal by officials.

In 2015, with local community support, Devon Wildlife Trust and a partnership including the University of Exeter, Clinton Devon Estates and the Derek Gow Consultancy, successfully secured a license from government which would allow the beavers to stay and be studied over a five-year period. This license established the River Otter Beaver Trial.

The Trial represented one of the most comprehensive independent scientific studies of beavers and their impacts. Its evidence was presented to Defra in January 2020 and formed the basis of the Government’s decision, announced in August last year, that the Devon beavers should remain in the wild.

Devon Wildlife Trust’s Mark Elliott led the five-year trial. He said:

“Our extensive experience gained here in East Devon shows that people and beavers can co-exist well. We would now like to see an ambitious move to reintroduce beavers into the majority of river catchments in England over the coming years. Working closely with local farmers, landowners and communities, we’ve been able to iron out issues where they have arisen and have jointly developed a model of practical management which we’d like to see repeated across the country.

Beavers have become an established and popular part of our local landscape in East Devon. As well as bringing income into the local community, they are boosting wildlife and measurably reducing the risk of flooding in certain locations. In the midst of the climate and ecological emergency that we are now in, beavers can really help, but it is essential that we give our watercourses more space into order for these benefits to be realised. Proper incentives to encourage landowners and farmers to provide space for streams and beaver-created wetlands are an essential part of this, and it is vital for the government to provide the necessary funds for this. With these measure in place, these benefits could be replicated in most rivers throughout England. Defra’s consultation is a key opportunity for all of us to make our thoughts on the future of these amazing animals known.”

Defra’s beaver consultation runs for 12 weeks and is live from 9:30am, Wednesday 25 August. You can access the consultation here.