Female beaver feeding on willow in lower River Otter, © David White
One of the most exciting findings of the trial has been the remarkable restoration of natural riverine processes, and the knock-on effects for ecology and particularly fish species.
Where beaver dams have been built in streams that have been dredged and straightened by engineers and farmers over the years, the effects have been remarkable. New meanders are created and natural stream riffles and pools are restored. Spawning areas have been created for trout and bullhead in the gravel beds, and lamprey, eels and the larger trout enjoy the deeper, siltier pools that temporarily form behind the beaver dams.
The importing of woody material by beavers is now a process even being replicated by organisations such as the Wild Trout Trust, which understands the importance of naturally functioning watercourses complete with fallen trees and pieces of wood in the channel.
Unfortunately some anglers still believe that beavers eat fish, or that beaver dams will impede the migration of salmon upstream, and organisations representing these views are lobbying for an end to the restoration of the animal to our landscapes.
“One of the most exciting findings of the trial has been the remarkable restoration of natural riverine processes”
Beavers are the ultimate water engineers and restore natural streams and wetlands, felling trees and blocking watercourses. However, the English landscape is largely artificial, and our watercourses have been heavily modified by humans over millennia. Beavers will therefore inevitably cause conflict with the existing land-uses and it is vital that proactive management and landowner support is integral to any reintroduction.
One of the simplest but most effective measures would be to provide more space for our watercourses. Moving infrastructure and farmland back and providing a buffer strip would have multiple benefits for our rivers and streams and the fish and other wildlife that live in them. It would also enable beavers to maximise the benefits they can provide by restoring wetland corridors, and reduce the conflict that they may otherwise cause.
“Proactive management and landowner support is integral to any reintroduction”
The decision that the beavers can remain on the River Otter, while very welcome, is only the first of many decisions that now need to be made about beavers in England. There are already wild populations cropping up in other rivers in England, such as the Tamar and Stour, and many organisations are keen to introduce them elsewhere.
How will these populations be viewed, safeguarded and managed? Will Natural England grant licences for new releases elsewhere? And will funding for their ongoing management be made available to support landowners wishing to give the beavers and their new wetlands enough space? These are all issues that may well be included in a government consultation likely to begin in November.
With the right policies in place, we should soon start to see this charismatic species cropping up in rivers throughout the country.
Related competencies include: Management of the natural environment and landscape