Harry Barton, Chief Executive of Devon Wildlife Trust, said:
‘We are delighted by Natural England’s decision to grant us a licence to give these beavers a long term future on the River Otter. It’s the result of a great deal of effort by our charity, supported by partner organisations across the UK and, most importantly, by the local community.
This is an historic moment. The beavers of the River Otter are the first breeding population in the English countryside for hundreds of years. We believe they can play a positive role in the landscapes of the 21st century through their ability to restore our rivers to their former glories. We know from our own research and research done in Europe that beavers are excellent aquatic-engineers improving the flood and drought resilience of our countryside and increasing the water quality of our rivers. They are incredibly industrious animals and their hard work has benefits for people and wildlife.’.
Devon Wildlife Trust has expressed its delight that Natural England has granted it permission to monitor the beavers. Devon Wildlife Trust’s beaver trial in another part of the county is ongoing – scientific results will be published in 2016.
Public meetings have been held to discuss the presence of the wild beavers on the River Otter – there has been a high level of local support for Devon Wildlife Trust’s proposal to set up a five year project to monitor the population and its impact. It is appealing to the public to help it fund the scheme. Public enthusiasm for the beavers is high – with Devon Wildlife Trust raising £45,000 in just eight weeks.
The Wildlife Trusts say that they are at the forefront of bringing beavers, and the lost landscapes that were once their home, back to the UK. Beavers were hunted to extinction in the UK by the 16th century because their fur was highly valued. Now Wildlife Trusts in England, Scotland and Wales are making the case for their reintroduction by hosting both wild and enclosed beaver trials and feasibility studies.
Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts says:
‘This is wonderful news. I hope that the decision to allow this fascinating and once commonplace native species to remain on the River Otter symbolises a change in our relationship with the natural world, and a wider appreciation that nature makes our lives richer.‘
However, Friends of the Earth also deserve considerable credit for a national campaign to keep the Devon beavers in the wild.
Friends of the Earth campaigner Alasdair Cameron, said:
‘This is great news for Devon’s beavers. If, as seems likely, they can now remain in the wild, it will be a major victory for common sense and everyone who has campaigned on their behalf.
Beavers add to Britain’s rich natural heritage and can bring huge benefits to the local environment, such as boosting wildlife and reducing flooding risks.
Thanks to the hard work of thousands of individuals and organisations, our number of native species just increased by one. The next stage is to get the beavers tested and then returned to the River Otter where they can now swim in peace.”
Hopefully we’ll now see renewed efforts to reintroduce beavers to other suitable locations right across the country.’.
Andrew Sells, Natural England’s Chairman commented:
‘Reintroduction of a species is a complicated and emotive subject and we have considered this application very carefully. Responses to our written consultation and public meetings have been generally positive and we are now satisfied with Devon Wildlife Trust’s plans for managing and monitoring the project, which will allow important evidence to be gathered during the trial on any impacts which the beavers may have.
Future decisions by Natural England on the release of beavers will in large part be informed by the results of this trial. The unauthorised release of beavers remains illegal and Natural England does not expect to grant any other licences for beaver release during this trial period.
Trapping and testing of the animals for Echinococcus multilocularis will be carried out by the Animal and Plant Health Agency under a separate licence that was granted towards the end of 2014.’.