The Guardian reports that ‘wild’ beavers have been caught on camera traps (more about these later) on the River Otter, Devon.
This is the first confirmed sighting of beavers in the wild in England for hundreds of years. They are living wild in Scotland as part of a scientific research project in Argyll and there is a population on the River Tay, but this is the first confirmed sighting in England.
I’m all for reintroduction of native species, particularly as part of rewilding projects but ‘accidental’ reintroductions could lead to significant problems. I believe that the reintroduction of beavers outside of official projects will inevitably lead to the culling of large numbers of these animals, given time. The fact is, England does not have a balanced ecosystem with the full range of animals, birds and plants. Without natural predators, beavers, if unmanaged, could spread to areas where their presence is inappropriate. By inappropriate, I mean areas where their presence in the modern English man-shaped environment is not compatible with other land uses and this is clearly an acceptance on my part that many areas of this country are, in all likelihood, no longer suitable for this species.
On the other hand, the beavers could just spread as far as they can until the population is sufficiently dense that they manage their own numbers through a lack of habitat. However, I think conflict with humans is likely to happen long before this could come to pass.
There will be many people who are concerned about this reintroduction, farmers and foresters particularly, and there is already enough ‘conflict’ between countryside businesses and conservationists.
I’ve spent quite a few hours sat by a Swedish lake (being bitten by mosquitoes) trying to photograph and film these amazing animals and I’ve been lucky to have very close views (they came to me not the other way round!).
I love the idea of beavers being back in the English landscape but if they are to have a wild future, they need to be reintroduced as part of managed, scientific projects in suitable habitats where the populations can grow and become established without significant conflict with other interests. Reintroduction in a staged way, with debate on matters important to all stakeholders should be the way forward. It should not be down to a few (possibly well-meaning) individuals to take things into their own hands and release animals into the wild.
As the title of my blog states, I’m a concerned amateur. Therefore, these are just my thoughts and I’m starting on a journey towards greater understanding of these issues – I’m sure I’ll keep changing my views in the meantime.