Beavers to be reintroduced in southern England

Beavers are set to be released at two sites in southern England next spring in a bid to aid flood management and increase biodiversity.

Beaver female with two kits. © Mike Symes/Devon Wildlife Trust

The reintroduction forms part of the The National Trust’s mission to improve habitat for wildlife and increase the diversity of species on its land, and it plans to release two pairs of Eurasian beavers; one pair at Holnicote in Somerset, and another at Valewood on Black Down Estate in the South Downs.

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Beavers once made up an important part of the UK’s wildlife, sculpting the landscape by creating dams and playing an crucial role in the country’s ecosystem. But they became extinct here in the 16th century due to demand for their fur, meat, and scent glands.

Eurasian beaver / European beaver (Castor fiber) eating leaves/Credit: Getty Images

Their contribution to the landscape has not gone unnoticed by conservationists, and in recent years beavers have been reintroduced to Scotland and parts of southern England. There are currently small populations of beavers on the River Otter in South East Devon, and at several enclosed sites in a number of other locations in the south.

The benefits they bring include natural flood management, making landscapes more resilient to climate change and the extreme weather it brings, as Ben Eardley, Project Manager for the National Trust at Holnicote, explains: “The dams the beavers create will hold water in dry periods, help to lessen flash-flooding downstream, reduce erosion, and improve water quality by holding silt.”

Beaver in river
Beavers eat only plants and do not eat fish. They feed on aquatic plants, grasses, herbaceous plants and shrubs during the summer months and woody plants in winter/Credit David Chapman

The reintroduction is part of the Trust’s ‘Stage 0′ project — part of their Riverlands work — aiming to restore the natural flow of rivers. In the areas they are being released, the beavers will help rivers achieve a more natural flow, helping to hold more water in the landscape, and improve water quality as well biodiversity, which has seen an alarming decline in the UK.

“We know from the recent State of Nature report that wildlife is in decline. 41 per cent of species since 1970 and 15 per cent of species are under threat from extinction,” said Mark Harold, Director of Land and Nature at the National Trust. “We need to do more, and we need to encourage and support others to play their part. 

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“These releases are part of the Trust’s wider objective to restore 25,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitats by 2025.  Part of this work means we are focusing on helping nature recover, and the reintroduction of beavers is just one example of how our approach to restore natural processes.”