The Government today launches a consultation which could see the animals released back into the countryside
Beavers could be reintroduced to the rivers across the country under plans unveiled today.
A consultation on releasing the dam-building creatures, which were hunted to extinction in England in the 16th Century, into the wild will last for 12 weeks.
It follows their successful reintroduction on the River Otter in Devon and re-wilding schemes by conservationists.
The initiative “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”, according to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Hailing the consultation as “an important step forward for beavers’ recovery in Britain”, Beaver Trust communications director Eva Bishop said: “We need a national policy around beaver reintroductions and it’s vital to form consensus on their return, with an effective management framework resourcing to support mitigation measures, whilst maximising the biodiversity benefits beavers can bring.
“This is about working towards co-existence with a valuable keystone species, mitigating against conflicts that might arise.
“We hope to see beavers accepted back in the countryside like any other native wild animal – particularly as they have a role to play in nature’s recovery and British wildlife resilience in the climate emergency.”
Beavers became extinct in Britain more than 400 years ago after they were targeted for their fur, meat and castoreum – a secretion used in perfumes, food and medicine.
But last August, 15 families of the animals were given the permanent “right to remain” on the Otter in East Devon after a five-year study.
There are also about 17 sites in England where they live behind fences having been brought in by landowners, some of whom promote re-wilding schemes.
Natural England chairman Tony Juniper said the consultation “marks an important and positive moment for the future of these wonderful animals in England”.
He added: “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.”
Environment Secretary 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.
10 Downing Street/AFP via Getty)
“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.”
The National Farmers’ Union environment forum chairman Richard Bramley said: “It is positive that any reintroduction will be strictly licensed by Natural England and it is important any approved licensing includes a long-term management plan, developed with local farmers and backed with adequate funding.
“Any impact on a farmer’s ability to produce food needs to be included as part of a full impact assessment carried out before any licence is issued.
“We must remember that beaver reintroductions can have negative impacts; potentially undermining riverbanks, damaging trees, impeding farmland drainage and causing low-lying fields to flood. Where there is a financial impact on a farm business, adequate compensation must be made and an exit strategy must be in place should major issues occurs.”
A Countryside Alliance spokeswoman said: “There is undoubtedly a desire to see some species reintroduced to the UK countryside and beavers, for example, are among those that could well yield positive results.
“The views of those rural people who will ultimately be most impacted by such a reintroduction, however, must be taken on board, as well as there being a need for a management plan to address any serious conflicts that may arise.”