Hope for the River Otter beavers

I’ve been following the saga of the River Otter beavers for the last year or so. This week there appears to be a new twist in the tale. In brief, beavers have been discovered living wild on the River Otter. No-one is quite sure how they ended up there, but they have successfully bred. These are the first beavers to breed in the wild in the UK for hundreds of years.

While the locals have generally welcomed the beavers with enthusiasm, DEFRA have been threatening to capture the beavers and rehome them at a zoo, saying they are concerned the beavers may harbour a disease that could be passed to humans. This has caused lots of upset, with thousands of people signing petitions to let the beavers remain on the river. The Devon Wildlife Trust have applied to Natural England for a license to release beavers into the wild. And Friends of the Earth have launched legal proceedings against DEFRA, claiming beavers are protected in Britain under European law.

On Friday the Guardian reported that DEFRA seem to be softening their stance, saying the beavers will now be tested much closer to their Devon home than originally planned. This will reduce distress for the animals, and may make it easier to release them back on the River Otter.

Apart from it being exciting to have another species of large mammal in the wild in Britain, beavers could offer other benefits as well. Beavers are nature’s engineers, and the dams they build may help fish stocks in rivers, and also reduce the risk of flooding. Having said that, they do change the landscape, so the support of landowners is vital if they are to return to the wild in Britain. They seem to have that support on the River Otter, so, if allowed to return, it will be interesting to see how the relationship between people and beavers develop.

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