Fifteen families of beavers just won their permanent “right to remain” on the River Otter in East Devon.
This marks the first time the UK government has ever backed the reintroduction of an extinct native mammal. Known for their ability to build complex dams, pools, and burrows with underwater entrances, beavers can rapidly change entire ecosystems.
The decision follows a five-year study by Devon Wildlife Trust, working with the University of Exeter, Clinton Devon Estates, and the Derek Gow Consultancy, investigating the Devon beaver families’ impact on the local environment.
The River Otter Beaver Trial showed definitively that the animals’ presence improved the ecology of the river. But they also reduced the risk of flooding for people living downstream, due to the beaver’s dams and burrows.
“As their numbers have grown so has local people’s awareness and appreciation of them. We’re delighted that these beavers have now been given leave to stay permanently,” said Peter Burgess, Director of Conservation at Devon Wildlife Trust.
“This is the most ground-breaking government decision for England’s wildlife for a generation,” continued Burgess. “Beavers are nature’s engineers and have the unrivalled ability to breathe new life into our rivers and wetlands.”
“Their benefits will be felt throughout our countryside, by wildlife and people,” he added.
Beavers and Rewilding
The Otter River beavers were first discovered in 2013, and their exact origins remain unconfirmed. Some speculate that wildlife activists illegally released the beavers as part of a rewilding project.
According to Devon Wildlife Trust, the Otter River beavers are Britain’s first wild breeding population in over 400 years. The Eurasian beaver—previously extinct in the UK—was hunted for meat, fur, and castoreum, produced by the animal’s scent glands and used in perfumes, food, and medicine.
Last year, the National Trust announced plans to reintroduce beavers at two separate locations in the south of England. The conservation charity also cited flood management and the improvement of local biodiversity as key factors.
“The beavers become an important part of the ecology, developing natural processes and contributing to the health and richness of wildlife in the area,” said Ben Eardley, project manager for the National Trust at Holnicote.
“Their presence in our river catchments is a sustainable way to help make our landscape more resilient to climate change,” he added.