9 Jul 2014

Campaign to keep Devon’s beavers from being evicted

(Credit: Tom Buckley)

Wildlife enthusiasts in Devon have vowed to defend a family of beavers from forced re-location by a team of government trappers.

“It shouldn’t just be ‘no to beavers’,” said Derek Gow, a freelance ecologist and beaver expert. “They’ll all go, be put in a concrete cell in a zoo, for a reason I frankly don’t begin to understand.”

Now Channel 4 News has obtained exclusive footage showing the elusive beaver family in daylight for the first time (above).

The beavers were first documented on the River Otter in Devon in photographs and videos last year however reports of sightings and potential sightings date back years. The videos show two adult beavers and one juvenile — potentially a family group — apparently thriving in the quiet Devon valley for the first time in at least 500 years.

Beavers were hunted to extinction in the UK towards the end of the 18th century. In Scotland they are being successfully reintroduced into the wild and the Welsh government are considering a reintroduction programme too.

Below: watch Tom Clarke’s report on beavers from March 2009.

Yet despite this, the apparently thriving beavers on the River Otter are being handed an eviction notice. Last week Defra announced it would round up the errant beavers. 

“There are no plans to cull beavers. We intend to recapture and rehome the beavers and are currently working out plans for the best way to do so,” Defra said in a statement.

The stated reason for their decision is that the beavers, if introduced from an eastern European country, could be carrying an undesirable tape worm.

The tape worm called Echinococcus multilocularis is a nasty parasite, mainly if you’re a fox or a coyote. In North America and Central Europe, where it is endemic predators, can pick it up from rodents like mice. The worm slowly works its way into organs like the liver and can, if left untreated, kill. Very rarely it infects humans.

However, all the beavers imported into England are from Norway or Bavaria where the parasite isn’t found. 


Local groups say the parasite is a smokescreen for a government acting in haste to placate a well connected angling lobby that is opposed to the animals returning. 

For their part anglers told Channel 4 News they have nothing against beavers themselves, its their impact on England’s poor-quality rivers that must be avoided.

“Beavers could have lots of benefits for rivers, like bringing in woody debris,” said Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust. “But our rivers have other problems like low flow, pollution and habitat damage. But by putting in barriers to fish migration right now beavers bring more minuses than pluses.”

The origins of the beavers on the Otter remain mysterious. Rumours abound that a pair or some juveniles escaped from captivity nearby — but there is no proof.

But given the enthusiasm for reintroducing beavers into the wild in other countries and among wildlife groups here — returning them to captivity would mean nothing is learned about how they behave in the wild in England.

“Mis-placed concerns over fishing have superseded all of this,” said Derek Gow.  “There  is a huge opportunity being missed here.”

Mr Gow had just returned from a meeting with Defra ministers about the beavers. He said he was hopeful that a way could be found for the animals to be tested for the disease but remain, under close observation, in the wild.

But he warned that if the government did go ahead with its plans to remove them they would face strong resistance from local supporters and wildlife enthusiasts who want England’s first wild beavers since Georgian times to stay.

Follow @TomClarkeC4 on Twitter.