Mostly Trapping

Beavers to be reintroduced on two sites, despite farmers' opposition
Nov 20, 2019 07:41 ET

(Reprinted from above link)

Beavers are to be released at two National Trust sites despite opposition from farmers to their reintroduction.

Wildlife experts believe the animals can alleviate flooding, as they create dams at the top of rivers which slow water flow.

Beavers were once common in Britain but were eradicated in the 16th century as they were hunted for their fur and an oil they secreted which was a major component of cosmetics.

Now, they only exist in a couple of trial schemes in England which are being monitored by scientists, as well as a small wild population in Scotland where they were illegally introduced.

However, the National Trust has now been given the go-ahead by government agency Natural England to release beavers into two of its reserves.

The schemes will see two pairs of the aquatic mammals each released into a separate enclosure at Holnicote, Somerset.

A third pair will be released into a fenced enclosure at Valewood on the Black Down Estate, on the edge of the South Downs in West Sussex.

This is the first time the National Trust has released beavers on to its land, and it hopes the pairs at the two sites will help create a thriving habitat and increase the range of species and wildlife numbers.

It is also hoped they will help make the landscape more resilient to the extremes of climate change, storing water in dry times and reducing the rising risk of flooding.

Zac Goldsmith, an environment minister, suggested last month that the government intended to release beavers into the wild.

While many conservationists hope that this will lead to beavers once again becoming widespread in Britain rather than just in fenced-off trials, farmers have advised against releasing the animals into the wild.

The National Farmers' Union's senior countryside adviser Claire Robinson said: “Any species introduction, particularly if it has not been in this country for hundreds of years, can have a massive impact on the many benefits that the countryside and farming delivers.

“Beavers in the wild could have potentially serious implications on farmland such as land drains being blocked in lowland arable areas.”

Environmentalist and financier Ben Goldsmith, who has funded beaver captive breeding, said that this trial is not going far enough.

He told The Telegraph: "Beavers are the ultimate keystone species. By building little dams along the streams and tributaries that make up our river catchments beavers significantly reduce both flash flooding downstream and summer drought. These beaver-made wetlands are a haven for an extraordinary array of wildlife.

"It’s wonderful news that the Government is enabling the return of beavers by the National Trust and other organisations. But these are fenced enclosures. Surely it’s time now to follow the lead set by our European neighbours and allow beavers to breathe life into our depleted landscapes by re-reintroducing them wholesale to all of our river catchments?"

Ben Eardley, project manager for the National Trust at Holnicote, said: "Our aim is that the beavers become an important part of the ecology at Holnicote, developing natural processes and contributing to the health and richness of wildlife in the area.

"Their presence in our river catchments is a sustainable way to help make our landscape more resilient to climate change and the extremes of weather it will bring."

The beavers at Holnicote will be part of a new project on the estate to restore the streams and rivers to a more natural state where they meander "like the branches of a tree".

They will be brought from Scotland, from the River Tay where they have been breeding since being illegally released some years ago, and will be released in the spring - with the trust spending the next few months readying the sites.

Both projects will be monitored with help from Exeter University and other organisations, looking at the environmental and water system changes to the landscape.

A Defra source said the government is committed to reintroducing formerly native species, including beavers, where there are clear environmental and socio-economic benefits.