Beavers have been absent from the British landscape for over 400 years after they were hunted to extinction during the 16th century for their fur and oils.
This year, the semi-aquatic rodent looks set to return to the Sussex countryside as part of a five year trial, led by Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Knepp Estate near Horsham.
Natural England has granted the Sussex Beaver Trial a licence to release two beaver pairs into 250 hectares of land where they will roam freely, using their natural instincts to build dams and lodges, and create channels and deep pools. This activity will provide natural flood management around the river Adur and also maintain a base flow of water in drought conditions. New ecosystems will be created for wildlife and natural fish stocks increased.
Isabella Tree, co-owner of Knepp Estate said ‘This is a dream come true for us. We know beavers are one of the biggest influences missing from our landscape. Not only are they masters of water management, they’re hugely beneficial to biodiversity. Insects, birds, aquatic plants, fish will all gain from the intricate habitats they create. I am longing for the day when I hear a beaver tail slapping on Hammer Pond.’
Fran Southgate of the Sussex Wildlife Trust said, ‘At least 80% of the UK’s natural wetlands have been damaged or destroyed in the past, and in Sussex it is probably closer to 95%. Wetlands are some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet, and are fantastic carbon sinks, helping to buffer us against climate change too. Bringing beavers back to Sussex will start to show us what a healthy wetland should truly look like.
The beaver release is part of a national project, with Natural England granting an additional licence for Valewood on the National Trust’s Black Down Estate in Chichester, West Sussex.
For further information go to www.sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk