In August the government opened a consultation on plans to reintroduce beavers in England, proposing 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, alongside proof that a comprehensive assessment has been undertaken of the impacts on surrounding land, the water environment, infrastructures, habitats, and protected species. Projects should ensure support is in place for landowners and river users.
In the job description for the new national beaver officer position, Natural England writes that the post holder will be “key to the successful reintroduction of beavers in England”, and the main point of contact for the general public, stakeholders and partners - particularly the Environment Agency.
The national beaver officer will support licensed beaver reintroduction projects and management partnerships formed around unlicensed populations of beavers in England. The national officer will also oversee a programme of monitoring for these beaver populations.
Commenting, James Wallace, chief executive officer at conservation charity Beaver Trust, said the creation of the “pivotal new role” demonstrates the need for central coordination “to support the continued expansion of beavers across England”.
“We hope it attracts strong candidates with interest in collaborative working and promoting beaver co-existence with land managers”, he said, adding that as beaver populations expand, “coordinating management interventions will be central to ensure minimal conflict, high animal welfare, and good outcomes for the overall population”.
Wallace continued that the Beaver Trust was “delighted” in the government’s leadership “in urgent nature restoration”. He added that he hoped further funding would be provided for “supporting and incentivising landowners to give space to nature, including for beavers as ecosystem engineers”.
When DEFRA announced its beaver strategy consultation, conservationists in the river sector raised concerns that while the proposals were a “bold move” from the government, the complexity of the reintroduction would require careful management.
Mark Lloyd, chief executive of The Rivers Trust said at the time: “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.”
Beaver reintroduction has long been seen as a thorn in the side of farmers, who argue that left unmanaged the animals can undermine the productivity of farmland. The National Farmers Union has called for adequate compensation to be made should beavers cause “major issues” and financially damage farm businesses.
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.
Once appointed, the national beaver officer will oversee the delivery of beaver release projects, with a remit to ensure “consistency of methodologies, management principles and monitoring”.