Beaver

Beaver ©Nick Upton

(C) David Parkyn

©David Parkyn

Beaver eating

Beaver ©David Parkyn

Beaver swimming

Beaver ©David Parkyn

Beaver

Scientific name: Castor fiber
Our largest rodent, the European beaver has a flat tail and webbed feet, and is well-suited to a semi-aquatic lifestyle. Once hunted to extinction in the UK, recent reintroductions have been very successful.

Species information

Statistics

Length: 70-100cm
Tail: 30-40cm
Weight: 18-30kg
Average lifespan: 10-15 years

Conservation status

Beavers are being re-introduced into different parts of Great Britain after an absence of about 400 years.

When to see

Active January to December but easiest to see in daylight between May and September.

About

The European beaver is a ‘keystone species’, with an amazing ability to alter its surroundings. Where it doesn’t have access to deep water, it can build dams that can transform landscapes. It fells and coppices riverside trees (especially willow) for food and for building dams and lodges. In late spring and summer, it eats mainly aquatic plants, grasses, ferns and shrubs, but at other times, woody species form the major part of its diet. Beavers live in family groups with an average of about five individuals, comprising adults, kits and yearlings. Females produce a single litter of one to six kits per year (average about 3). Beavers are semi-aquatic, mostly active at dawn and dusk, and do not hibernate.

How to identify

As large as a Labrador dog, but with shorter legs, the European beaver is robust and heavily built. Two distinctive features are a broad, flat tail, covered with scales, and webbed feet. It has small eyes and ears, and light brown fur.

In our area

Beavers are very charismatic animals and not that difficult to see if you spend enough time by the river in the right areas.  They are nocturnal for much of the year, but during the light summer evenings they can be seen during daylight hours.  They are resident in the lower reaches of the River Otter in areas well covered by the public footpath network, and if you spend enough time on these paths during the summer evenings between May and September you stand a good chance of seeing them, as well as otters, kingfishers, dippers etc.

One of the best areas is currently around Otterton village where the footpaths go north, south and west from the main river bridge, but this can change.  

You should aim to be out from the early evening, and be prepared to stay out until it’s almost dark (so worth having a small torch with you). Wear warm, dark and quiet clothing, and have a pair of binoculars with you if possible.

It’s worth spending a bit of money in the local business (Otterton Mill and the Kings Arms are good places to eat and drink in the village) and always worth mentioning that you are in the area to see the beavers - local businesses should benefit from having beavers in their area.

Please make sure you respect the landowners and other users of the river, and follow the Countryside code. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-countryside-code

To stand a better chance, if possible, don’t bring a dog with you. Beavers have a very acute sense of smell and although they can be quite tolerant of dogs, they can perceive them as a threat, especially if they have vulnerable kits (May – July) – certainly make sure your dog stays out of the river in these areas at this time of year.

Tell us about sightings. Many of the beavers are wearing ear tags, so if you are lucky enough to spot a beaver, look carefully to see if it is wearing ear tags – it will help us understand where the different beavers are living. Let us know the date, time, exact location, and the details of ear tag colours and which ears they are in, and email it to beavers@devonwildlifetrust.org

There is more information about the River Otter Beaver Trial on our website, where you can also subscribe to emails to stay informed about progress, and even donate money to support the Trial.

https://www.devonwildlifetrust.org/what-we-do/our-projects/river-otter-beaver-trial

Distribution

Small numbers reintroduced to locations in England, Wales and Scotland from mainland Europe.

Did you know?

European beavers make dams so that they can move about and feed in safety. They also like the entrance to their burrow to be submerged, so where they don’t have deep water, they can create it. In larger rivers and lakes, they don’t need to build dams. The work they do, coppicing trees and building dams, creates wetland habitats that benefit an enormous number of other species from water voles to amphibians, dragonflies to birds. Beavers also have a third, transparent eyelid (called a nictitating membrane) that protects their eyes as they swim underwater.

How people can help

You can help by supporting beaver reintroduction trials being run by The Wildlife Trusts. Visit the websites of the Scottish Beaver Trial, Devon Wildlife Trust's Beaver Project and the Welsh Beaver Project to find out more.

Donate to a beaver appeal