The Angling Trust warmly welcomes Defra’s commitment to capture and return to captivity a number of beavers which have escaped from captivity – or have more likely been illegally released – into the River Otter in Devon for the following five reasons:
1. Our rivers have changed dramatically
Although beavers were native to some parts of the British Isles more than 500 years ago, our rivers have changed dramatically in the past five centuries and suffer from endemic pollution, over-abstraction of water and the presence more than 20,000 weirs and dams which act as barriers to fish migration. Nearly all fish species, not just trout and salmon, need to migrate up and down rivers in order to complete their life cycle and the addition of beaver dams would only increase the number of obstacles that fish have to overcome. If we remove all these barriers to migration, then beavers present less of a problem to fisheries.
2. It would be irresponsible
In a healthy natural ecosystem, beavers can actually be beneficial because they introduce woody debris to rivers and their dams can trap silt and create new habitats. However, fewer than 25% of England and Wales’ rivers are in good ecological condition and the Angling Trust’s view is that it would be irresponsible even to consider reintroducing this species into the wild without first restoring our rivers to good health by tackling low flows, pollution and removing the vast majority of man-made barriers to fish migration.
3. Beavers can spread fatal diseases
Beavers imported from abroad have the potential to spread the tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis which can spread to dogs and humans, for whom it can be fatal. Britain is currently free of this parasite.
4. They pose a risk to infrastructure
Evidence from North America and Germany shows the considerable risk to infrastructure – including flood defence assets, roads and railways – from allowing beavers to become established in high risk and populated areas. An adult beaver can bring down a 10 inch wide tree in under an hour, and a single beaver family will fell up to 300 trees a year. In the upper Danube region of Germany, beavers have caused £5 million of damage. How will riverside residents feel when the only tree in their garden is gnawed down overnight? Or a beaver dam floods a housing estate that has never before flooded? The problem with beavers is that they are very secretive and mainly nocturnal, and they don’t stay put, so they will spread from rural areas to villages and the edges of towns and cities.
5. Consultation is necessary
The beavers in Devon were almost certainly released illegally by some enthusiasts who believe they can take a unilateral decision on behalf of the whole nation; there was no democratic decision taken with proper consultation with local people, businesses and landowners to seek their views.
Mark Lloyd is the Chief Executive of the Angling Trust.
Read the other side of the debate: Mark Elliott of the Devon Wildlife Trust's five reasons why beavers should be introduced into Britain's rivers.
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