Posted 18th Aug 2017
Image courtesy of Devon Wildlife Trust
As Europe's largest rodent, the beaver is roughly the size of a tubby spaniel. Famous for eating trees, they actually have a far more diverse diet than that. During the summer they feed on aquatic plants, grasses and shrubs, before resorting to more woody plants during winter. As great engineers, they build dams that will divert and slow down running water, in the process creating new ponds that will flood 'canals' they they use to reach tasty young willow growth.
The European beaver has been driven to extinction in the UK in the 16th century, having been hunted for its fur, for meat and for the oil in its scent glands, which would be used in medicine.
With the loss of the beaver, the country lost one of it's great architects, with the mosaic of pools and marshes, channels and wet woodland that their feeding creates disappearing, with our wetlands subsequently becoming poorer. Moves are now underway to reverse the loss, and The Wildlife Trusts are at the forefront of this.
Young beavers are known as 'kits' and will emerge from the lodge at the end of summer. They can be seen out and about, feeding through the autumn.
In Scotland, a five-year trial reintroduction has taken place at Knapdale Forest, Argyll, a partnership between Scottish Wildlife Trust, The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and the Forestry Commission in Scotland. While the results of the trial are discussed by the Scottish Parliament, the beavers are still in Knapdale and a visit to the ‘beaver detective trail’ should reveal plenty of tracks and signs. Visit early in the morning and you may be lucky enough to see a beaver itself.
In Devon, a pair of beavers was discovered on the River Otter in 2014. The Government's original plan was to capture the animals and rehome them, but Devon Wildlife Trust has successfully argued for England’s first wild beaver trial. For the next five years the animals will be monitored, and a final decision made on their future. We certainly hope it will be a rosy one. There is good public access along the River Otter, with evidence of the beavers’ presence along the 12 mile stretch from Budleigh Salterton to Honiton.
In Kent, beavers have been present at Ham Fen since 2001. Although the reserve is not open to the public, Kent Wildlife Trust runs regular guided walks, which give the opportunity to see these water engineers at work.
There's nowhere to visit just yet... The Welsh Wildlife Trusts are leading the Welsh Beaver Project. Currently the project is investigating the feasibility of releasing beavers at two sites in mid Wales, although for now these plans are just in the pipeline. We await the return of beavers to Wales with eager anticipation.
Text and information courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts