In 2014 a pair of wild beavers living on the River Otter gave birth to kits (young) for the first time and there was a risk the government would step in to have them culled. Devon Wildlife Trust objected and persuaded the authorities to allow the Trust to carry out a 5-year research project into this first wild population in England. Their goal was to find out what the impact of the colony would be on property owners and farmers, flood and drought, wildlife and the economy. In 2020 (by which point there were 15 family groups of beavers living on the Otter) the government responded to the research findings by permitting the beavers to remain, making this the first legally sanctioned reintroduction of an extinct native mammal to England!
Jake Chant, Field Officer for Devon Wildlife Trust, gave a talk about the project to Connecting the Culm in February 2021, explaining what they found and what the impacts on our rivers are likely to be as the beaver population grows. Nearly 200 people attended the event and there was a stimulating question and answer session afterwards exploring issues diverse issues including impacts on trees and fish populations. You can watch the whole event on the recording below.
Many thanks to Jake for a really fascinating presentation.
There was a good discussion going on as the talk progressed, with questions for Jake and live responses from the audience. You can read it all here:
17:18:41 From Dominic Acland : See the full River Otter Beaver Trial report here.
17:28:36 From Paul Mallett : A recent BBC Spotlight report mentioned a plan to flood the Otter down by the estuary. Is this going to be problem for Beavers?
17:30:31 From Richard Brunning : I’ve seen big beaver dams in France
17:30:48 From Dominic Acland : Thanks Paul, we’ll ask Jake that question in the discussion afterwards.
17:32:33 From Janet Harrison : Beaver canals can be quite deep (over 2 m deep).
17:33:41 From Nicky Saunter : fabulous footage!
17:38:09 From Adrian Howell : Scottish and Canadian Beavers kill around 100 adult trees a year, 150 family groups will potentially wipe out most of the trees in the Otter valley’ how can this be managed
17:38:56 From Janet Harrison : Willow and poplar trees sprout readily for regrowth.
17:38:59 From Richard Brunning : beavers don’t kill the trees they effectively coppice them – seen this is France on numerous sites
17:39:33 From jon burgess : Unlikely to kill the tree, more likely to cause it to coppice so it will reshoot freely from the base. It is what trees are evolved to do
17:40:05 From Steven Johnson : Thanks all, we’ll put this to Jake at the end too, he may cover some of the tree protection measures they’ve used so far
17:41:38 From Charles Sinclair : if beavers naturally migrate to new catchments, who is responsible for their management?
17:42:25 From Nicholas Gibbons : Look at colour of puddles
17:43:51 From Richard Brunning : in France the farmers are compensated by the state for any beaver damage I think
17:44:41 From Steven Johnson : Thanks Charles, important point, we’ll come to that with Jake at the end too.
17:45:20 From Steven Johnson : Which puddles do you mean Nicholas?
17:45:51 From Nicholas Gibbons : Bottom of arable field with plough lines up and down slope
17:50:06 From Richard Brunning : they love apple too when they can get it
17:50:21 From Janet Harrison : Apple bark is sweeter.
17:50:50 From David : Hi all. So sorry I’m late.
17:51:26 From Steven Johnson : No problem David the recording will be available on the website in the next couple of days if you want to catch up!
17:52:03 From Janet Harrison : But increasing water temp. can impact cold water species of fish.
17:53:09 From jon burgess : We just need to make sure we plant more trees than the beavers fell…
17:53:45 From Janet Harrison : Yes, quick growing shrubs/trees will provide shade.
17:54:24 From Richard Brunning : coppiced trees regrow quickly. Humans have been doing that as treee management for thousands of years
17:54:25 From Maria Christell : Is something being done to encourage a farm free zone around rivers?
17:54:58 From Janet Harrison : Yes, do you have riparian habitat protocols.
17:55:46 From David : My understanding is that the beavers are allowed to remain. What is the problem?
17:55:50 From ted and tracey : how do you get on the volunteer list?
17:57:08 From ruthm : Many thanks Jake, that was really interesting.
17:57:25 From Dominic Acland : We are hoping, once covid restrictions allow, to organise a beaver training workshop in the field with Jake and DWT. We’ll circulate details widely through our newsletter and website.
17:58:04 From Robin : question re control and Devon WT
17:58:05 From cath.bashforth : How do you manage H&S with regard to footpaths/ roads next to the river – e.g. trees that are half felled/felled over the path?
17:59:06 From Richard Brunning : same as done for trees that go over in a high wind
18:00:01 From Colin McLeod, NatureScot : An issue picked up in the Knapdale beaver trial (also apparent in parts of the Tay catchment) is that high levels of roe deer browsing sometimes impede what should be natural coppice recovery – so deer numbers may need to be better managed. Lynx, anyone?
18:00:30 From jon burgess : Highways or Council have responsibility for fallen trees over infrastructure, otherwise the landowner is responsible for the dangerous tree
18:01:04 From Alastair Rogers : Please do not underestimate the problems beaver activity may cause to migratory fish. An independent review of the River Otter Beaver Trial by the Inland Fisheries Institute has highlighted significant issues – and migratory fish are, as Jake said, already under huge pressure. Needs very careful thought before you accept beavers are a good idea in any catchment.
18:02:10 From cath.bashforth : That’s a big responsibility – the beavers in our enclosure can fell/ half chew several trees a night – some quite sizable.
18:02:12 From Richard Brunning : migratory fish have co existed with beavers for millenia of course in the Uk
18:03:03 From Alastair Rogers : Not in the environment we have today which is of course very different
18:03:36 From jon burgess : Maybe the fish will be healthier once we reduce the huge amount of pollution in the water – beavers will help that? Should we blame the beaver for the harm humans have done, and continue to do?
18:03:42 From Richard Brunning : so who is the biggeer threat to migratory fish, beavers or humans?
18:04:57 From Alastair Rogers : Fish are under pressure form humans especially pollution – but we have spent years trying to remove obstacles to fish migration – introducing beavers creates more obstacles
18:05:30 From Flora WF : What about the new watercourses the beavers create?
18:05:43 From firstname.lastname@example.org : Very good talk Jake, thank you. I would challenge you on the fish migration issue. ROBT report itself observed the majority of sea trout unable to ascend a Tale dam and no work on juvenile fish dispersal. We at Wild Trout Trust have genuine concerns and there is very little evidence, certainly in constrained English rivers
18:06:41 From Geoff Flower : if you look at the water quality below the dams, its perfect for fish spewing. Clearer, less sediment covering eggs & spawn
18:07:04 From Geoff Flower : spawning*
18:08:12 From Maria Christell : Surely there is a difference between man made obstacles in rivers and beaver activities?
18:08:22 From Richard Brunning : all the beaver dams i saw in France had a bypass channel that the beavers used to travel to and fro above and below the dam – these were ideal for fish movement
18:09:20 From jon burgess : Perhaps once we have water quality rated as ‘good’ we can then look at blockages. Lets stop pumping phosphates into the water first?? Somerset Levels RAMSAR ??? no beavers there…
18:09:28 From Daniel Osmond : It strikes me that much of the conflict is in hypotheticals of what the beavers may or may not be doing (for fish, trees, ect). I’ve been blown away by the positives of biodiversity and aquatic restoration having visited a few of these sites. Would the Wildlife Trust consider (post-vaccines) doing guided walks to showcase the habitat changes?
18:09:32 From Nicky Saunter : Did beavers not evolve with our migratory fish?
18:10:13 From Ruth : The beaver taught the salmon to leap over millenia
18:12:23 From James : Great talk and some constructive debate – thank you!
18:13:18 From Bennie Lye : Thank you, great talk.
18:13:40 From Alison Kettlewell : Huge thanks to Jake for his excellent work and calm and balanced approach to negotiating the difficulties arising. I will continue to follow news regarding beaver management etc.
18:13:54 From Ivan Godfrey : Are there plans to encourage greater access / knowledge / location of beavers for the general public?
18:14:34 From Colin McLeod, NatureScot : Incidentally, I think beavers invented pollarding, as well as coppicing – I’ve seen trees on River Earn floodplain gnawed off by beaver at 1.5 metres above ground in time of flood. Deep snow could also let beavers gnaw trees above their normal reach, safely out of reach of deer.
18:14:34 From kennethhutchison : Thank you for talk very interesting to the Beaver Team
18:16:35 From Nicky Saunter : It’s interesting that most of our problems are not with beavers but between humans. Thanks for getting this across so sensitively Jake.
18:16:36 From email@example.com : yep, beavers evolved with salmon and trout but not at a time of 55M people and hugely modified rivers. Beavers may well make good rivers and their ecology even better but we have lots of rivers that are not good, without space currently for the rivers to respond to the beavers good works
18:17:29 From Richard Brunning : do the Devon beavers create bypass channels for their movement beside their dams? They do that in France.
18:21:33 From Alastair Rogers : Bypass channels are more created by overflow, not for beavers own access. They can climb over the dams
18:23:03 From Richard Brunning : No, the ones i saw in France were deliberately created by the beaver to aid their movement above and below the dams and to carry wood- just as in their wider network of channels
18:24:22 From Janet Harrison : Thanks very much for a very informative talk. I’m very excited for you with the re-introduction of beaver in England. We almost lost our beaver in the 1930s, but with Grey Owl (a Brit) and his conservation message, they were brought back from the edge of extinction. We have many beavers throughout our urban watersheds. Greetings from Toronto, ON, Canada.