After an absence of 400 years, beavers can return to the wild in England


HR King
Gold Member
May 29, 2001
Four hundred years after disappearing from the wild in Britain, beavers will be allowed to live naturally in England again after a five-year trial showed they offer many benefits, including reducing flood risks, improving biodiversity and helping curb the effects of climate change.

Beavers once glided and built freely in British rivers. But they were thought to have been hunted to extinction in the 17th century for their meat, their castoreum — a secretion used in medicine and perfumes — and, above all, their fur. Beaver hats were a high-society staple.

The semiaquatic, vegetarian mammals were reintroduced to the wild in Scotland in 2009. But England didn’t immediately follow suit — although, as it turned out, it wasn’t beaver-free. In 2013, a family was spotted in the River Otter in Devon, in southwestern England. It is unclear how they got there.

At first, government officials wanted to remove the Devon beavers. But after a local outcry, they were allowed to stay for a five-year period to be studied in a trial led by the Devon Wildlife Trust. The trust commissioned independent scientists to investigate their impact on the local river system.

Beavers, of course, are famous for building dams — they want to be in deep water, and if there isn’t any, they create it. The trial found that the dams reduced the risk of flooding and trapped pollutants from the surrounding land, boosting water quality. The scientists also found that the beavers enhanced wetland habitats, benefiting fish, insects, birds and other animals.

Although the study reported that a group of local landowners had experienced problems, including crops destroyed and fields flooded by the beavers, the Devon Wildlife Trust said the issues were “successfully managed.” The trust also stressed that funds need to be made available to compensate landowners for such damage.

John Varley, director of Clinton Devon Estates, one of the largest landowners in the area, told the BBC that a balance could be struck.

“There was a potato field which was flooded, due to the actions of the beaver,” he said. “They can chop down trees in the wrong place.” But “overall,” he said, beavers do create “natural flood defenses.”

On Thursday, the British government said that the beavers in the River Otter, which also has otters, would be allowed to stay permanently. It is the first time the government has backed the reintroduction in England of an extinct native mammal. The Devon Wildlife Trust called the move “the most ground-breaking government decision for England’s wildlife for a generation.”

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said that the five-year trial “has proven highly successful — improving biodiversity and water quality, mitigating flooding and making the local landscape more resilient to climate change.” The government said it would now begin consulting on a national approach to managing beavers in the wild.

Richard Brazier, a professor at the University of Exeter who led the research team studying the beavers, said the trial may have broader implications for the possible reintroduction of other species in England hunted to extinction, of which there is a long list.

“If you wanted to reintroduce lynx, pine martens, wildcats, we now know a lot more about the science you need and the partnerships you need to be persuasive,” he said.

During the trial, from 2015 to 2020, the beavers built about 28 dams. The group has multiplied to some 15 family groups, which can now expand unhindered.

“Americans must find it funny that we’re taking all this time to decide whether to keep beavers in one part of Devon,” said Stephen Hussey, a spokesman for the Devon Wildlife Trust. “You’ve airdropped them into rivers.”

In the late 1940s, beavers in boxes were parachuted into Idaho backcountry to help relocate them from an area where they were clashing with new residents — they were damaging irrigation systems and farming efforts — to eroded land where they could do good.

“It’s great news that these beavers will remain,” Hussey said of the Devon contingent. “We think beavers are a critical part of healthy English rivers.”

“It was a brave decision,” Hussey said, referring to the British government’s move. “This is about restoring, putting something back in, and that’s exciting for us conservationists. We face huge ecological challenges. The last six months of covid shows you fight nature at your own peril. You have to work with it.”
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Joes Place

HR King
Aug 28, 2003
I can't find the vintage Beaver Liquors shirt that has the passed out beaver at the bar with the caption "A beaver shot can get pretty hairy"