By Melissa Reitz
Britain plans to introduce beavers back into the wild in five counties after their worth as vital players in ecosystems has been proven.
Co-ordinated and managed by the Wildlife Trusts, beavers will be returned to Dorset, Derbyshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Nottinghamshire and Montgomeryshire, where they have been extinct for more than 300 years.
Hunted out of existence in the 16th century for its fur, meat and scent glands, the loss of the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) also led to a loss of important waterways and lakes throughout Britain. Now, a five-year study has shown that beavers play a vital role in maintaining water systems, not only benefiting other species but also people.
The study revealed that beaver dams prevent flooding by drastically slowing the flow of streams, and that they also purify water polluted by nitrates and phosphates, store carbon and help restore habitats for other wildlife.
Now, landowners and large estates are scrambling to acquire licenses to reintroduce the water-loving rodents onto their properties.
England’s Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra), is considering research so that beavers can be given legal protection as a native species.
In Scotland, beavers were officially given native species status in 2016. However, controversy has erupted over a culling system. The charity organization, Trees For Life, is taking the Scottish government to court who, they say, has failed to make culling a “last resort” for controlling beaver numbers.
In the meantime, Britain’s reintroduction project is underway, and a pair of beavers have already been released into an enclosure on a wetland nature reserve in Dorset earlier this year. Two beaver families and their kits will be released into a 12-hectare enclosure in Willington Wetlands reserve in the Trent valley, while Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust will place beavers in a massive enclosure at its Idle Valley nature reserve.
Subject to license approvals, beavers will be released on the Isle of Wight for the first time, while the first officially licensed release of beavers in Wales will be at Cors Dyfi reserve near Machynlleth.
“The reintroduction of wild animals, especially keystone species like the beaver, back into their range areas is vital to ensuring we sustain biodiversity on Earth,” says Adrienne West of the Animal Survival International (formerly Political Animal Lobby). “We endeavor to support wildlife reintroduction projects wherever we can.”