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Record year for beavers

The Wildlife Trusts have announced that 2021 will be a record year for beaver releases. Plans developed by the Wildlife Trusts of Dorset, Derbyshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Nottinghamshire and Montgomeryshire will see new beaver families moving into these counties for the first time.

Twenty years after they reintroduced the first beavers to Britain, around 20 beavers will be released this year including to a project in Wales. The first of the year’s releases took place in Dorset last week.

The Wildlife Trusts have been at the forefront of beaver reintroduction and projects in Britain ever since Kent Wildlife Trust released the first pair into a fenced area of fenland in 2001, followed by the Scottish Beaver Trial in 2009.

These industrious herbivores are native to mainland Britain but were hunted to extinction in the 16th century by people who wanted their fur, meat and and scent glands. The loss of beavers led to the loss of the mosaic of lakes, meres, mires, tarns and boggy places that they were instrumental in creating. Their ability to restore and maintain important wetland habitats is why reintroducing this species is so important.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts said: “Beavers are a fantastic keystone species that have a hugely important role to play in restoring nature to Britain. It’s brilliant to see Wildlife Trusts across the UK ensuring a better future for wetlands and for a wealth of other wildlife by bringing back beavers whose engineering capabilities inject new life into wild places. The benefits for people are clear – beavers help stop flooding downstream, filter out impurities and they create new homes for otters, water voles and kingfishers. What’s more, people love seeing them and their presence boosts tourism in the countryside.

“We live in one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, which is why we have a big ambition to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030. We’re calling on the government to come up with an ambitious strategy to enable beavers to return to help tackle the climate crisis and improve wetlands for wildlife.”

Five years of research by Devon Wildlife Trust shows that beavers bring a valuable range of improvements for people and wildlife: they create a wonderful range of wetland habitats that provide homes for other wildlife and greatly enhance conditions for nature to thrive; the channels, dams and wetlands that beavers engineer hold back water and release it more slowly after heavy rain, helping to reduce the risk of flooding; their activities prevent soil being washed away after rainfall – their dams filter water, cleaning it and reducing pollution downstream.

Devon Wildlife Trust and its partners in the River Otter Beaver Trial have developed extensive experience supporting people to live alongside these industrious creatures once again. DWT led a locally-agreed management strategy, which has proved crucial in enabling local communities, volunteers and landowners to work together to maximise the benefits beavers bring, and successfully manage localised problems that can occur.

This year, individual Wildlife Trusts are raising funds to bring the beavers back, making their new homes ready and carrying out the checks they need. Future releases are expected to trap, vet-check and move beavers from a substantial population in Scotland while Shropshire Wildlife Trust has identified a 12-hectare site in central Shrewsbury where a pair of beavers will be released in an enclosure in 2022. The beavers will be replacing grazing cattle to prevent trees and scrub from invading the wetland. The site is surrounded by housing estates and a school, so there will be plenty of opportunity for local people to be involved.

The Wildlife Trusts expect Defra to release a public consultation on a beaver strategy for England shortly, which will look in more detail at the management of beavers in the wild and future reintroductions. The Wildlife Trusts want to see clear support for beaver reintroductions into catchments across the country. They are calling on the government to: clarify their legal status in England. Beavers became a legally protected native species in Scotland in 2019.; agree an ambitious strategic approach to enable their return to help tackle the climate crisis and improve wetlands for wildlife; make funding available for landowners and local beaver management groups to help reintegrate beavers into our countryside.

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