Its controversial. When Alexandra Topping on 2nd January 2017 in the guardian prints: Beavers could be reintroduced to Wales after centuries’ absence …
and within 24 hrs the BBC reports: Concern over plan to reintroduce beavers to Wales – BBC News, and a month later, Walesonline reports: How beavers could be reintroduced to the wild in Wales – but farmers aren’t happy.
This series of reports highlights the way the environment is taking second place when it should be of equal status to agriculture, and the problems of homeowners in flood plains at a time of global warming.. New farming practices are being questioned, such as neonicotinoids in /on seeds, but so is the re-introduction of a generally beneficial species. Rivers that Nevern, but as second phase it seems. There would be no harm in publicising that beavers used to thrive on the Cleddau – on trail literature and posters. after all, they may spread…. despite the word “enclosed”.
If only someone in authority had had the foresight to call for beavers, thousands of flood victims across the country may not have ended up forced out of their homes with nowhere to go.
A new report by Devon Wildlife Trust uses scientific data from a pilot scheme to reveal that the rodent engineers are able to staunch floodwater by using their dams to store it in pools and canals, thereby lessening the impact downriver. The dams, constructed from mud and sticks, leak a continuous stream of water, which allows the ponds to refill during heavy rainfall. Beavers constantly adjust their water systems, increasing the number and size of dams, pools and canals to accommodate the volume of water.
The statistical data, gathered in what is believed to be the only scientific study of its type in the world, reveal that beavers could also be an alternative to hosepipe bans in times of drought because the dams continue to leak water downstream, even when upstream ponds have run dry. In dry parts of America, Coca-Cola has successfully used beavers to replenish water.
The trust’s report also found that as water progresses through the beavers’ dams, it is purged of contaminants such as farming fertilisers and silt.
The study is based on two years of research in a trial on private land at a secret location in Devon. The project began in March 2011, when a pair of locally bred Eurasian beavers were placed in a three-hectare fenced enclosure in the headwaters of the River Tamar. Beavers still exist in Europe, but in the UK they were hunted to extinction 400 years ago for their pelt, meat and castoreum (oily secretion), which was used in medicine and perfumes.
“In 2011 this pilot site was heavily wooded with no water, so we built a tiny pond to give the beavers some security,” said Mark Elliott, 44, the project leader. Six years on, the beavers have cleared the site to make way for 13 dams. The biggest stretches for more than 30m and the ponds hold up to one million litres of water. The population expanded to five when the female had three kits, but is back to two because the mother died and the kits had to be removed before a new female was introduced. Beavers are territorial and the youngsters would have attacked the newcomer.
Beavers build land-based, multichambered lodges with underwater entrances, and ponds and canals at least 70cm deep because they feel safest in deep water. In England, the adults have no natural predators, but kits are vulnerable to foxes and birds of prey.
Elliott hopes to raise funding to continue the trial to gather further data. “Longer term, if whole catchment areas in the UK were full of beavers it could make a difference to flooding. Landowners could be paid for allowing beavers to hold water on their land because they’d be providing a public service for people living downstream,” he said.
Detractors argue that because beavers engineer a landscape to suit themselves, they damage the environment, destroying trees to eat the bark and shoots and to use the wood for timber, while their dams prevent water from entering other tributaries. Steve Hussey, 50, communications head at the trust, says evidence gathered from the body’s second pilot scheme repudiates this and that the benefits outweigh drawbacks. The trust’s five-year licensed trial, the only one in the country, started in 2015 after wild beavers were discovered on the River Otter. The beavers, thought to have been illegally dumped from a private collection bought abroad, are disease-free and have expanded to a population of 20.
“The idea is to show that beavers and people can happily coexist,” Hussey said. He points out the beavers’ distinctive V-shaped teeth marks on trees in a narrow corridor along the riverbank. “They don’t wander far from water so they pick trees, mostly willows, that they can fell, or partially fell, then drag into the water. Often they are coppicing rather than killing trees, which then grow back stronger. They’re herbivores so don’t eat fish or other animals. They build dams if the water isn’t deep enough for them, so they’ve not built any here.”
Hussey says worried landowners can protect their trees with beaver-proof wire. The beavers’ deep pools attract frogspawn and fish, and they have created a tourist industry of beaver walks, he adds. Locals want the rodents to stay, but the decision will be taken by Natural England, a government body.
Beavers are nocturnal, so we visit the river as dusk falls. We bump into enthusiastic locals equipped with nightvision binoculars. We huddle down in the cool night air, which is alive with the twilight chorus, to wait for a beaver to pop up from the underwater entrances of a lodge that extends back 10m.
An otter appears, splashing about before, sensing us, it dives beneath the surface. But of the beavers there is no sign, reminding me of a similar recent experience trying to catch a glimpse of the elusive wildcat in the Navarra region of Spain. They must have warned the beavers I was coming.
Watch the beavers online at devonwildlifetrust.org/enclosed-beaver-project
The views are those of the author, and not necessarily the WWRT who have yet to opine on Beavers.