England’s rivers ‘not fit for beavers’, say conservationists

The government has said it is launching “cautious” plans for beaver reintroduction in England, but conservationists have warned that the country’s rivers are not currently fit for the animals.

Nature conservationist Derek Gow has also warned of the risk of making the licence application process too difficult: “It’s inevitable the more difficult you make it the more people will look at it and say ‘bollocks’.” 

He said that while elements of the government’s proposed reintroduction plans “look brilliantly progressive”, that it “depends how high they intend to set the bar”. 

“If the number of stakeholders you have to involve is very high, this is going to be really hard to achieve”.

Today’s consultation on beaver reintroduction proposes a self-described “cautious” approach to bringing the animals back into English waterways, where project groups could apply for licences to release beavers into the wild. 

Projects would need to meet certain criteria, including demonstrating positive “stakeholder engagement” and local buy-in, such as with landowners and land managers, proof that a comprehensive assessment has been undertaken of the impacts on surrounding land, the water environment, infrastructures, habitats, and protected species. Projects would also have to also ensure that support for landowners and river users is put in place. 

Proposed projects would have to appoint a local beaver officer to act as a local contact point, supporting stakeholders including risk management authorities and others operating in the water environment.

Gow said that no other nation has described its rewilding proposals as “cautious”, adding that “once again we’ve set a new record”.

Concerns have also been raised by conservationists in the river sector, who say that while the proposals are a “bold move” from the government, the complexity of the reintroduction will require careful management.

Mark Lloyd, chief executive of The Rivers Trust said: “Our statutory agencies do not currently have the resources to do their basic regulatory role properly, let alone to manage a complex, national reintroduction of a species renowned for changing local environments quite dramatically.”

He added that “our rivers are also not yet fit for beavers; for most of their length they are lacking the riparian habitat needed to provide food and dam material for beavers and they are already dammed by tens of thousands of man-made barriers that need to be removed or at least have fish passes installed”.

At present, the only place where the government has permitted wild beavers in England is on the river Otter in Devon. The beavers are thought to have been originally released illegally, but were allowed to remain after research showed they improved water quality, reduced flood risk downstream, and benefited other wildlife such as otters and kingfishers.

The consultation document says there are currently six other beaver populations in England, which have come either from other illegal releases or escaped from enclosures, and that they too should be permitted to remain.

These populations are on sites on the river Tamar in Devon, river Stour in Kent, river Avon and river Brue in Somerset and Wiltshire, and the Little Dart in Devon. The government says there is also a potential emerging population in the river Wye catchment in Herefordshire. 

 

See the full consultation document here