Beavers: First Steps towards Rewilding Britain?

Posted by Sara King BSc (Hons) MCIEEM on 30/01/2015

Natural England have approved a licence to allow a family of beavers recorded in the River Otter in Devon to remain in the wild. A licence will be issued to Devon Wildlife Trust to manage the release of wild beavers currently present in the river catchment on a five year trial basis. This licence will be subject to several conditions, and the Wildlife Trust will have to be sure that the beavers present are European beavers free of parasites.

It is anticipated that future programmes to reintroduce beavers into Britain will be dependent on the results of this trial, and the impacts that result from this species on people as well as nature.

Beavers lived in Britain but disappeared from our rivers 300 years ago, predominately due to humans hunting them for their fur. They are, however, aquatic engineers and regarded by some as a keystone species, as they provide an important ecosystem service to people. Beavers in particular can improve flood resilience within our rivers, river catchment management, improve fish stocks and increase water quality. In addition, they create a varied structure within river systems which will enhance biodiversity.

Rewilding is usually associated with reintroducing bison, wolves and lynx back but the reintroduction of smaller species, including beavers, is an important step towards plans for rewildling in the UK. Beavers are found in 25 countries in Europe, and the UK supports perfect habitat to support this species. There are trials ongoing to release beavers into Scotland, which have shown the enhancements to biodiversity that can result from the presence of this species. Beavers create additional structure and habitats that other species can use, therefore enhancing the biodiversity within our river corridors. They are referred to as a keystone species because of their effect on improving opportunities for other species.

We may not be at the stage of reintroducing Wolves to England, but this does seem to be a substantial step towards rewilding the UK and improving biodiversity. Hopefully we will be seeing beavers within rivers across the UK within the next 10 years.