28th Jun, 2022

Landmark consultation launched on the reintroduction of beavers in England

Coventry Editorial 25th Aug, 2021

Plans to release beavers into the wild in England have been set out in a consultation launching today (Wednesday 25 August) – marking a cautious step towards further reintroductions and establishing native beaver populations.

Beavers were once native to Britain but were hunted to extinction in the UK around 400 years ago.

However, it is understood beavers could play a hugely significant role in helping to restore nature to England.

Widely referred to as ‘ecosystem engineers’, beavers create dams from trees, mud and rocks, which raise water levels, creating pools and wetland habitats which support the recovery of a wide range of native species.

Under the Government’s proposals, applications for licences to release beavers into the wild would need to meet certain criteria, including demonstrating positive stakeholder engagement and local buy in, and proof that a comprehensive assessment has been undertaken of the impacts on surrounding land, the water environment, infrastructures, habitats, and protected species. Projects must also ensure that support for landowners and river users is put in place.

The consultation follows a successful reintroduction in Devon – the River Otter beavers reintroduction trial – which over five-years brought a wealth of benefits to the local area and ecology, including enhancing the environment at a local wildlife site, creating wetland habitat, and reducing flood risk for housing downstream.

The 12-week consultation is seeking views on:

Potential future releases into the wild

Current and future releases into enclosures

Mitigation and management of beaver activity or impacts in the wild, including the River Otter population and all other existing wild living beaver populations

Plans to give beavers legal protection in England are also being announced today, to support their recovery. This will make it an offence to deliberately capture, kill, disturb or injure beavers, or damage breeding sites or resting places.

Secretary of State George Eustice said:

We are committed to providing opportunities to reintroduce formerly native species, such as beavers, where the benefits for the environment, people and the economy are clear.

Today marks a significant milestone for the reintroduction of beavers in the wild, with the launch of the Government’s consultation on our national approach and management of beavers in England.

But we also understand that there are implications for landowners, so we are taking a cautious approach to ensure that all potential impacts are carefully considered.

Chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper, said:

The launch of Defra’s consultation today marks an important and positive moment for the future of these wonderful animals in England. Beavers are not only fascinating creatures in their own right, but are also ecosystem engineers that will play a key role in restoring and linking habitats, in the process bringing many environmental benefits, like we have seen in the highly successful River Otter trial in Devon – hugely positive transformations, including the creation of wetland habitat, improving water quality and smoothing flood peaks.

Decisions on the reintroduction of formerly native species in England are made based on the principles set out in the Government’s code of best practice for reintroductions.

Future beaver reintroductions will be subject to a licence from Natural England.

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