A five year trial to release beavers into a 16 ha release site in Cropton Forest in the North York Moors National Park in the north of England has been proposed by the Forestry Commission. The aim is to assess how beavers can slow down the flow of water to help protect areas such as Pickering from flooding (The Scarborough News).
In April, a beaver was killed on the road near the River Otter in Devon, and was probably an animal that was part of the River Otter Beaver Trial (ROBT). There have also been recent reports of beavers killed on the road in the Wye catchment Wales. One was a road casualty near the Cage Brook in Herefordshire in December 2017. In the same month, another beaver was reported to have been killed on a road near Painscastle. A third beaver was found dead near Llandogo in January 2018.
On 30th July, The Scotsman reported that two recently released captive-bred beavers have been filmed pairing successfully. The two beavers were released as part of a three year plan to release 26 beavers over three years to reinforce the Knapdale beaver population. Beavers were first released into Knapdale in Argyll, Scotland in 2009 as part of the official Scottish Beaver Trial, which ended in September 2016.
Forest of Dean
Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, released two beavers into a 6.5 ha enclosure in the Forest of Dean today. It is hoped that the activities of the beavers on the Greathough Brook will allay flooding that tends to occur in the village of Lydbrook. Michael Gove said, “The beaver has a special place in English heritage and the Forest of Dean. This release is a fantastic opportunity to develop our understanding of the potential impacts of reintroductions and help this iconic species, 400 years after it was driven to extinction. The community of Lydbrook has shown tremendous support for this scheme and the beavers will be a welcome addition to local wildlife. The project is an example of our wider approach to enhancing biodiversity. It is another step towards our aim of leaving the environment in a better state for future generations.” The Forest is run by Forestry Commission England and funding towards the project has been obtained from Gloucestershire Environmental Trust and Forest Holidays. A team of hydrologists from the University of Exeter led by Prof. Richard Brazier has already been monitoring the hydrology of the Brook for over a year, and will continue their work to study the effects of beaver dams on flooding – this will be a unique natural experiment.
River Otter Beaver Trial (ROBT)
At the same time today, DEFRA announced £20,000 of funding for the ROBT, led by the Devon Wildlife Trust, to understand the possible impact of reintroducing beavers more widely in England.
PhD position – apply now, “Predicting cascading ecosystem effects of beavers on riparian vegetation and deer”
A new PhD co-funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, the University of Stirling and the James Hutton Institute is now open to applications. Full details on FindAPhD. Note: the deadline for applications is 11th June 2018.
To celebrate the work done by conservationists and the successful reintroduction of British plants and animals to the UK following their extinction in the wild, the Royal Mail will release a special collection of stamps on 17th April 2018. One of the stamps will feature the European beaver; the others will feature the osprey, pool frog, sand lizard, large blue butterfly and the stinking hawk’s beard (also Royal Mail Group). The move has received criticism from Tory MP Nigel Evans (e.g. The Sun, iNews).
A few days ago, an adult female beaver was killed by a car near Langford Bridge, near to the River Otter in Devon. It is very likely that the beaver was part of the River Otter Beaver Trial set up in 2015 and run by Devon Wildlife Trust. The animal was in good health and had been tagged when young near Ottery St Mary in 2015. It may have moved to the road during a period of heavy rainfall and high river levels. Although the River Otter population now consists of 25-30 individuals and this death will not affect the trial particularly, it is unfortunate that this is the first beaver road casualty to be reported in Britain (see BBC News, The Independent, DevonLive, The Sun, Mail Online.)
As the climate warms and Canadian beavers move northwards into the arctic, there are concerns that their engineering works may accelerate the thawing of the permafrost. Beaver dams pond back water and slow down the flow, and newly cut beaver channels can allow warmer water to move into the frozen tundra. These impacts of beavers on the effects of global warming have been studied using satellite imagery and aerial photography. More information can be found in an article in The New York Times.
Plans to release two adult beavers and two young into a 6.5 ha enclosure to alleviate flooding in the village of Lydbrook have been approved by Natural England (NE) and backed by the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove (GOV.UK). The beavers will be released in the spring of 2018. Michael Gove said, “The beaver has a special place in English heritage and the Forest of Dean proposal is a fantastic opportunity to help bring this iconic species back to the countryside 400 years after it was driven to extinction. The community of Lydbrook has shown tremendous support for this proposal and the beavers are widely believed to be a welcome addition to local wildlife.” This could lead to the consideration by NE of further applications for similar releases. As well as flood defence, the beavers in the Forest of Dean should bring wider benefits such as to local biodiversity. The Forestry Commission is funding the project and will carry out monitoring studies after the release. The Forest of Dean project has been widely covered in the media, e.g. BBC News, Huffpost, The Guardian, Green Party, South West Farmer, MRCVS Online). Most people support the project although caution has been expressed in some quarters about the possible impacts of wild beavers on farmland and the physical environment (e.g. National Farmers Union).
Beavers were first introduced into Knapdale in Argyll, Scotland in 2009 as part of the Scottish Beaver Trial. In November 2016, after the five year trial had ended, the Scottish Government announced that beavers would be given protected status in Scotland. This includes the large “illegal” population of beavers on the River Tay which probably originates from animals that escaped from captivity in ~2007. The Knapdale beavers were down to about nine individuals in four family groups, only one group of which appeared to be breeding, and were vulnerable. A licence has been given by Scottish Natural Heritage to a new partnership, “Scottish Beavers” (formed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland), to release up to 28 beavers to reinforce the population. The aim is to achieve five breeding groups derived from a mix of Norwegian and Bavarian beavers (and maybe from other sources). As part of this plan, three beavers were released in 28th November 2017 (BBC News, WalkHighlands).