First sighting in hundreds of years of beavers in England

March 13, 2014

The beavers that were filmed in February 2014 were reportedly the first sightings of this species in England since centuries. Three European beavers, believed to have been adults, were filmed together on the River Otter in east Devon and could be seen gnawing at the base of trees, grooming themselves and playing together, media informed.

Experts said the sighting was “highly significant” as it strongly suggested a small breeding population of beavers now existing outside captivity, writes The Guardian. European beavers were hunted to extinction in England and Wales during the 12th century and disappeared from the rest of the UK 400 years later.

There have been successful reintroduction schemes in other parts of the UK. In 2009, three beaver families were released into forest lochs near the Sound of Jura in Argyll, Scotland, while plans to release the species into the wild in Wales have now also moved a step closer. The sighting in Devon would be the first time in centuries that European beavers have bred in the wild in England. This sensational news once again confirms the trend of wildlife comeback in Europe. According to the “Wildlife Comeback in Europe study”, the Eurasian beaver is highlighted as one of the species that have made a most remarkable comeback in Europe over the past several decades.

 The Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) is the second largest rodent in the world, with an original distribution from western Scotland across central and northern Europe into Russia, with fragmented populations occurring further west. The beaver is a keystone species and ecological engineer due to its dam-building behaviour, although it usually settles at sites where this is not necessary. These constructions change the flow and nutrient cycling of watersheds, leading to changes in invertebrate communities, and attract new species of birds, fish and amphibians through the provision of a suitable water table. Recently, the beaver has been proposed as an innovative solution of the flooding problems in England. – “Britain’s flooding crisis could be prevented in the future by boosting the UK population – of beavers”, The Mammal Society said. The animals could be more effective in the battle against deluges, than dredging and flood barriers. The charity called for the widespread re-introduction of the beaver as they believe the animals could use their dam-building skills alongside other man-made measures.

The Eurasian beaver, once widely distributed across Europe, was reduced to 1,200 individuals by the beginning of the 20th century, due to over-exploitation for fur, meat and castoreum, as well a s habitat loss. With the help of legal protection, hunting restrictions, reintroductions and translocations, natural recolonisation, and habitat protection and restoration, the species has made a remarkable recovery over the past 40 years. It is now re-established in almost all of its former range, and further increases are likely. ”Despite the benefits associated with this comeback, potential conflict will have to be mitigated to allow for peaceful co-existence and mutual beneficence of beaver and man”, says the Wildlife Comeback report.

You can download the report ”Wildlife Comeback in Europe” as a pdf here. It was produced in 2013 by ZSL, EBCG and BirdLife International, and commissioned by Rewilding Europe

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