National Trust reintroduces beavers to southeast England

Following the success of the reintroduction of beavers to land cared for by the National Trust in Somerset last year, a further pair have been released on the edge of the South Downs.

A Eurasian beaver male swimming in a pond in a large woodland enclosure soon after release at National Trust South Downs. ©National Trust

Understanding the benefits that beavers can bring to the ecosystem, the National Trust have released Eurasian beavers on two of its sites as part of its strategy to restore a healthier natural environment, and to improve 25,000 hectares of land for wildlife by 2025.

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Last year, two pairs were introduced to Holnicote Estate in the southwest, and this year, following their success, a further pair have been introduced into a hidden valley near the South Downs, in a 15 hectare fenced area cared for by the National Trust. It is hoped that the pair will breed and thrive in the valley, becoming an integral part of the ecosystem and contributing to wildlife biodiversity.

“Beavers are nature’s water engineers, they can help bring back the natural processes that have been missing from our environment,” said David Elliott, National Trust Leader Ranger for South Downs West.

“By creating their dams, the beavers will create new and wildlife-rich wetlands; ponds, rivulets and boggy areas that will, over the next few years, benefit a range of wildlife including amphibians such as frogs and toads, many dragonflies and damselflies, and wildflowers such as Devil’s-bit scabious that love damp meadows.

“They’ll help us create a pyramid of life based on wetlands – including bird and bat species as their prey increases in abundance.”

A Eurasion beaver male emerging from its travel crate during a release into a pond in a large woodland enclosure, at National Trust South Downs. ©National Trust
A Eurasion beaver male emerging from its travel crate during a release into a pond in a large woodland enclosure, at National Trust South Downs. ©National Trust

Once an integral part of the country’s ecological system, beavers were lost in Britain during the 16th century, hunted to extinction due to demand for their fur, meat and scent glands.

But now, a growing number of sites in Great Britain have reintroduced this keystone species.

In the South Downs, the pair will be carefully monitored for the benefits they are anticipated to bring, including improvement of water quality, flood water management, ecology and vegetation.

The valley where the beavers have been released has already seen an increase in biodiversity with many species of butterfly seen in the newly developed grassland habitat. This is thanks to careful land management undertaken by the conservation charity with the introduction of Long Horn cattle — a strategy that has lowered the intensity of grazing on the land.

With the establishment of beavers in the area, it is hoped that the landscape will flourish further.

“It is vital that we work with natural processes in the right places to help reverse nature’s decline,” explained Harry Bowell, Director of Land and Nature at the charity. “This is a different way of managing sites for wildlife – a new approach, enabling a native animal to develop a far more natural ecosystem than any human-engineered process could.

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“The work they can do by slowing, filtering and storing water in ponds really helps shape and develop loads of different small scale habitats which will benefit nature, but also are good for people too.”