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England’s only breeding population of wild beavers returned to river Otter

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Five wild beavers including two adult pairs and a kit have been returned to their natural habitat in river Otter in East Devon after they were given a clean bill of health.

The beavers were captured and temporarily kept in captivity in Devon with access to water and artificial lodges to test them for bovine TB and a parasitic tapeworm that can cause serious harm in humans.

The original proposal was to capture them, test them for diseases and then rehome them in captivity; however, wildlife experts opposed this proposal and instead proposed a five-year plan involving monitoring them in the wild, with the support of local people. Natural England gave its nod to the proposal provided the beavers were disease-free.

“This is an historic moment. The beavers of the River Otter are the first breeding population in the English countryside for hundreds of years. We believe they can play a positive role in the landscapes of the 21st century through their ability to restore our rivers to their former glories”, said Harry Barton, Chief Executive of Devon Wildlife Trust.

He added that they were delighted for the license granted by Natural England to monitor and manage the population of these wild beavers.

“It is wonderful to hear that the first breeding population of beavers in England for hundreds of years is going to be allowed to remain in the wild”, said Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts.

Under the five-year plan of monitoring the beavers, Devon Wildlife Trust’s River Otter Beaver Trial will measure the impact that these beavers have on the local environment, on the local economy and on local people. Beavers have been known to positive effect, but considering that these animals will be living in a well-populated, agriculturally productive English landscape for hundreds of years, it needs to be ensured that negative impacts be avoided.

“This will mean working alongside the Environment Agency, local authorities and landowners to manage any problems that may arise over the coming years”, said Peter Burgess, Devon Wildlife Trust’s Conservation Manager.

As part of the licence the beavers will be briefly be brought in to captivity in order for health checks to be made. This process will be overseen by Defra with expert advice from leading zoological and beaver experts.

At the conclusion of the project in 2020 the River Otter Beaver Trial will present Natural England with its evidence. Using this information a decision will be made on the future of the beavers on the river.