Press release – National Trust to release Beavers in England

National Trust announces first beaver reintroductions

Beaver. Photo: David Chapman

The National Trust has announced plans to release Eurasian beavers at two sites in the south of England next spring to help with flood management and to improve biodiversity. 

The beaver reintroductions will be the first made by the conservation charity, linking to its ambitions to create priority habitats for nature and to increase the diversity of species and wildlife numbers on the land in its care. 

Having once been an important part of the ecosystem, beavers became extinct in the UK in the 16th century due to hunting for their fur, meat and scent glands.

The plans, approved by Natural England, will see a pair of these fascinating mammals released into each of two fenced areas of woodland at Holnicote on the edge of Exmoor in Somerset, and a pair at Valewood on the Black Down Estate on the edge of the South Downs. 

Ben Eardley, Project Manager for the National Trust at Holnicote says: ‘Our aim is that the beavers become an important part of the ecology at Holnicote, developing natural processes and contributing to the health and richness of wildlife in the area.

Their presence in our river catchments is a sustainable way to help make our landscape more resilient to climate change and the extremes of weather it will bring.

They will be part of our innovative ‘Stage 0’ project, part of our Riverlands work which is about restoring natural process and complexity in parts of the river catchment.  In doing so they will help us achieve a more natural flow pattern, slowing, cleaning and storing water and developing complex river habitats.

The dams the beavers create will hold water in dry periods, help to lessen flash-flooding downstream and reduce erosion and improve water quality by holding silt.‘.

David Elliott, National Trust Lead Ranger for Valewood in the South Downs, said: ‘Beavers are nature’s engineers and can create remarkable wetland habitats that benefit a host of species including water voles, wildfowl, craneflies, water beetles and dragonflies.  These in turn help support breeding fish and insect eating birds such as spotted flycatchers.

There are just a handful of sites in the British Isles that have beavers.  This is a different way of managing sites for wildlife – a new approach, using a native animal as a tool.

The beavers will live along the stream at Valewood and gradually create little ponds, dams and rivulets. Making a habitat that is perfect for them and for many birds, amphibians and invertebrates – vibrant and alive with dappled light under coppiced trees.‘.

Both projects will be carefully monitored with help from Exeter University and others, to note both ecological and hydrological changes to habitat.

Mark Harold, Director of Land and Nature at the National Trust said: ‘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.

We need to do more, and we need to encourage and support others to play their part.

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. 

The development of a more natural river system; the slowing, cleaning and storing of water can develop a complex mosaic of habitats which are not only good for nature, but for people too.’.

The conservation charity will spend the next few months preparing the sites and getting the habitats ‘beaver-friendly’ in time for their arrival.

– Ends –

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14 Replies to “Press release – National Trust to release Beavers in England”

  1. This is brilliant news! I believe there's also interest in using beavers to reduce flooding in Sheffield's watershed. Meanwhile in Scotland with massive potential to move beavers from where they are not welcome to places where they'd do a great deal of good helping to keep homes, businesses and the 12% of land that is good for farming downstream dry we are not allowed to!! I am still waiting for the RSPB to get back to me about challenging the ban on beaver translocations here by them formally requesting permission to move beavers to their Insh Marshes reserve where they could actually help with the conservation of the curlew. In the meantime here is a petition https://www.change.org/p/roseanna-cunningham-scottish-government-end-ludicrous-ban-on-moving-beavers-to-any-new-territories-in-scotland-c0770fd6-e75a-4428-adcc-c51297f8c986?recruiter=16758115&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=share_petition&recruited_by_id=a77ffe20-6fa4-0130-7660-3c764e04b838&utm_content=starter_fb_share_content_en-gb%3Av13

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    1. Thanks Les. I was not aware of this petition. While I applaud Scottish Government for protecting beavers. The protection is a bit of a joke as so many licences to kill them have been issued. We need to translocate "problem" beavers to places they would be welcome. Plenty of space in the Scottish Highlands.

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      1. And lowlands. Places like Ayrshire, where sadly local farmers and angler pressure groups are still resolutely against the idea. The bastards.

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  2. I like the idea of beavers coming back but will they not be cutting down the trees that we're busily planting?
    What's the law say regarding (an unlikely event I'm sure) a beaver felling a tree and it falling across a road causing an accident?
    I recently spoke to a lichen expert (Ray Woods) and he was concerned about trees with very rare lichens being felled.
    Presumably all these things have been taken into account before release.

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  3. Beavers will most probably be in areas with existing riparian trees so will not necessarily have much impact on newly planted trees.

    It is important also to rremember that beavers don't kill trees - they coppice them, causing new growth to sprout from the stumps left. They let light in and through their dams and a supply of woody debris start a chain of processes that result in just about more of everything in nature terms, quite apart from the benfits to the human population - and to farmers where they reduce storm water peaks and sture water that is released slowly in summer.

    There are ways of managing the impacts of beavers and individual trees can be protected so that they are not felled. I hope those who are hosting beavers in enclosures, and organisations in areas where they are free, are training volunteers as a flying squad to help landowners manage beaver impacts without killing the beavers, as have read happens in Bavaria. It is important that this preparation for the eventual official reintroduction of beavers nationwide is scaled up as new sites are established so that a ntwork of experts can be made available to mitigate ptroblems, and it is important that management guidelines are drawn up to reassure those nervous about this great new step forward for British wildlife.

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    1. We can learn a lot from Bavaria and hopefully make the return of the beaver here even easier than it was there. If we can 'push' beavers into first becoming established in areas where they'd make a difference in reducing floods then the amount of money saved would be far in excess of what later mitigation measures would cost especially if farmers stop farming right to the water's edge which they shouldn't be doing for umpteen reasons. The 2005 Carlisle flood cost a whopping 400 million quid, more trees and having beavers in the hills around Carlisle could have shaved a fair bit off that probably. Of course in Scotland certain groups we are quite familiar with here are doing their best to deny any of this and hype up real, imagined and exaggerated problems with beaver. It has the potential for being a catalyst for change even to creating firebreaks on our flammable grouse moors so the daggers are well and truly out for it.

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  4. Sorry NTS, well intentioned and interesting yes, it's not however a re-introduction. It's a zoo/wildlife park. The animals must be confined by fencing...how's that a reintroduction? What happens with young from the family and how is inbreeding going to be prevented? It's a zoo.

    There's a debate to be had as to whether this sort of action speeds up or delays a proper national re-introduction. On the one-hand, it could speed it up by showing the benefits and how risks could be managed (although this is already comprehensively explored in Scotland in Knapdale and Tayside) or it could allow decision makers to procrastinate because 'releases' are already happening.

    What really needs to happen is for decision makers to carefully study the results of a decade of beavers in Scotland and make a selection of suitable release sites across the country and get on with it. There will be a need for a large contingency fund to deal with proven conflicts with human activity where beavers and humans want to utilise the same land (mostly no more than 20m from watercourses) Then we can get on and enjoy the benefits of beavers on our waterways. If we were to retreat 25m from watercourses then near all the conflict would disappear and we'd get huge improvements to the water and riparian environments.

    It seems likely in our 'frightened of nature country' particularly with its powerful rural vested interests that this will not happen. I watched a webinar about 'saving sage grouse' through the re-wetting of sage brush environments in the USA where man-made beaver dam analogues (BDA) were installed in small streams to re-create what they called emerald islands of habitat for sage grouse. Wetlands provided invertebrate food for grouse chicks and had been lost since the loss of beavers. Beavers, which had existed in these apparently arid environments until the arrival of Europeans had previously provided this function and were being investigated as a mechanism for doing it again. This is where I heard what I thought a very telling expression from one of the workers on the project - "the farmers aren't prepared to hand over completely the management of the streams to beavers" - and that's a massive problem here in the UK.

    I recall a conversation with a nature reserve manager here who was excited about beavers expanding their range onto his reserve "they'll do a lot of the work we're having to pay for in removing trees from the bog". When asked if there was a Reserve Management Plan, he was proud and very pleased to say there was and that it was being implemented. "The beavers won't have read the Plan"

    And that is what the people of the UK have to prepare for with a 'proper', if I may call it that, re-introduction.

    PS - answers to Gary's questions and many, many others are in the encyclopaedic reports done and commissioned by SNH for the Knapdale trial, and in the report to Scottish Government on Tayside's beavers.

    PPS If the beaver is an NTS beaver, then I guess liability for any accident caused by a tree across the road would fall to the NTS who's defence would be that they had acted reasonably in managing the risk of such a thing happening. If it was a truly wild beaver, then...someone else can answer that!

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  5. Whilst this is hugely welcome news, is it not time we had beavers out in the wider countryside and not in enclosures!

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  6. Knepp Estate should be getting some soon.

    We have applied and been granted initial permission, so about 3-5 years, maybe more, for us, fingers crossed. I hope we can get these beauties, I can't wait.

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  7. That’s. very good news. It is not often the National Trust does something really positive for wildlife. They often “drag their feet” because their nasty shooting interests keep getting in their way. Failure to join in with the Cairngorms Connect project is a good example. Let’s hope this is the start of the turning over of a “new leaf” for them. However until they halt their allowing of wildlife shooting for fun, I am afraid I could never consider joining them.

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  8. Watch this space, Les, I'll let you know about what we are considering in Sheffield as soon as possible, please bare with, hopefully not long. Should be able to address some other comments here too.

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    1. Nice to have you commenting Jim we've not heard from you for a while! Guess you've been busy there seems to be an awful lot happening in Sheffield, very impressive!

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