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).
In July 2017, conservation organisations have expressed concern about plans by the Scottish Government to remove and relocate a family of beavers, including kits, which has been released illegally on a river near Beauly in the Highlands in Scotland (BBC News) . In October 2017, concerns were expressed that two trapped beavers from the family group had died in captivity and the group had been split into two (Trees for Life). The plans to relocate the beavers was suspended as reported on 23rd October 2017 (BBC News).
Plans to release a family of beavers into a large enclosure around Greathough Brook above the village of Lydbrook on the north-west edge of the Forest of Dean in the county of Gloucestershire, England have yet to be approved by the Government (see The Guardian and BBC News). It is hoped that the plans, which are supported by the Forestry Commission (who manage the Forest) and the local villagers, will be given the green light soon. It is believed that the beavers will will create dams, ponds and canals and hold back up to 6000 cubic metres of water and so prevent the flooding of Lydbrook, which has happened in the past.
There have been recent reports of an incident between a dog and a beaver that occurred near a footpath along the River Otter, near Otterton in Devon (BBC News, Devonlive, ITV News, Sidmouth Herald). It appears that a dog that was not on a lead received injuries that are not life threatening. It is likely that the beaver had young kits nearby and was defending them. Signs are in place along the river to advise dog owners to keep their dogs are on a lead and out of the water in these areas. Such incidents are very rare but occasionally occur when animals (e.g. deer) or birds (e.g. swans) have young and feel threatened in some way. Devon Wildlife Trust is licenced to carry out trial studies on the reintroduction of beavers to the River Otter until 2020 (ROBT).
Evidence is building from an enclosed beaver study being carried out by Devon Wildlife Trust, under the direction of Prof Richard Brazier from Exeter University and other scientists, of the benefits of beavers in providing: natural protection against flooding, cleaning water of pollutants thus improving water supplies, reducing soil loss and enhancing biodiversity. However, there are sceptics who are not yet convinced about the longer-term net benefits of beavers in the wider countryside (BBC News). The studies continue; a summary of the initial findings with reference to publications in the scientific press can be downloaded here.
Recent reports (BBC Radio Gloucestshire, GloucestershireLive) indicate that the Forestry Commission is considering intruducing beavers into Lydbrook in the Forest of Dean to help stop a village from flooding. Further details can be found here.
Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) have recently released an up-to-date report on the scientific research being carried out on the captive beaver colony in Devon and on the population of wild beavers living on the River Otter in Devon. DWT is the lead partner in the first licensed beaver re-introduction and monitoring project to be carried out in England, on the River Otter in east Devon. The two new beavers introuced to the River Otter last year have built their own lodge and are building small dams – see Save the Free Beavers in England Facebook page.
The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, has announced that beavers will be allowed to remain in Scotland and be listed as a protected species. The long-awaited decision means that for the first time a mammal has been officially reintroduced into the UK, and has been welcomed by many, including: Scottish Natural Heritage, The Scottish Wildlife Trust, and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. The official news website for the Scottish Government provides details that Scottish Ministers have agreed that:
- Beaver populations in Argyll and Tayside can remain;
- The species will receive legal protection, in accordance with the EU Habitats Directive;
- Beavers will be allowed to expand their range naturally;
- Beavers should be actively managed to minimise adverse impacts on farmers and other land owners;
- It will remain an offence for beavers to be released without a licence, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.