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Extinct mammal returns to Devon

Posted by Luci Ackers on 9 July 2015
Related property: Lower Knapp Farm
Beaver in Devon  Image credit: Devon Wildlife Trust - Martin Hughes-Games and Mark Elliott, DWT River Otter Beaver Project officer.

Beavers have set up home along the River Otter!

It was recently discovered that Beavers are once more living and breeding in England. And this news is of huge national importance as it has been almost 500 years since they were last here.

Beavers, once widespread in Britain, had been hunted to extinction in England by the 16th century, targeted largely for their fur. Now almost 500 years later there's been a fantastic breakthrough. It started with a sighting at the tail end of 2013; three beavers were spotted on a stretch of the River Otter in south-east Devon. There have been a few successful reintroductions elsewhere in the UK in previous years, but these three would be the first known beavers living outside captivity in England, and if assumptions were correct that the smallest was a juvenile then it would mean these beavers were also a breading pair. Even better news!

It was unknown where the beaver family came from, or in fact if there were more of them, and concerns arose around the possibility of the animals carrying strange diseases that could endanger other local wildlife. That being said, it was fantastic to see wild beavers and these creatures are hugely beneficial to local ecosystems. Beavers are known as 'keystone species' and their habits and activities impact their surroundings.

Dam-building reduces erosion of rivers by slowing down the flow and also improves water quality, the dams and burrows and nibbled-up branches provide great habitats for a range of other creatures. A long decision process followed the beaver discovery in which Defra (The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Natural England and the Devon Wildlife Trust worked towards a solution which would allow the beavers to stay, whilst securing a solution to the risks.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Finally it was decided in January 2015 that Natural England would grant the Devon Wildlife Trust a five year licence to monitor the beavers, allowing them to remain on the River Otter. Five beavers in total were captured in order for a number of necessary health checks to be conducted.

Eventually all five beavers were given a clean bill of health, meeting the required criteria set by Natural England for their re-release, which took place in March 2015. This monumental leg of their story was covered in the 2015 season of Springwatch on the BBC.

Pictured: Martin Hughes-Games and Mark Elliott, DWT River Otter Beaver Project officer. Image credit: Devon Wildlife Trust

Since then the beavers have been doing well and their most recent milestone came just a couple of weeks ago. Settled and happy back home on the River Otter the female gave birth to kits at the end of June 2015.

Tom Buckley was the man responsible for capturing the first footage of the wild beavers all those months ago in early 2014 and, more recently, he managed once again to provide the first evidence that the beavers have had kits, catching the familiy on film. This makes these babies the first to have been born as part of England's first ever wild beaver trial. You can see the footage and learn a little more on the Wildlife Trusts website.

According to the BBC this is the only time an extinct mammal has been reintroduced to England. The beavers are healthy and will most likely produce one litter per year.

The current kits will take two to three years to reach sexual maturity and as yet there are no plans to tag them or track them, as the Devon Wildlife Trust aims to disturb them as little as possible. One thing that's certain though is that many people are very pleased these charismatic critters are back on our soils.

The self-catering properties of Lower Knapp Farm are just a short distance from the picturesque River Otter. Even if you don't manage to spot any of these cheeky inhabitants, it's still a great area for walks. Lower Knapp also provides an ideal base from which to reach the lovely coastline which is only a 15 minute drive away. Find out how to stay here by following the link below.

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Luci Ackers

Luci Ackers

Luci loves getting out and about for a good cycle ride or easy-going walks in the countryside, and thoroughly enjoyed the time she previously spent working for the National Trust. Her love of writing started from a young age and on rainy days nothing beats curling up in a secret corner with a good book.

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