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. 

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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.

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7 reader comments

  1. CB says:

    The beavers are native UK mammals, they will not be made extinct here for a second time.
    Write to the Government minister involved, Lord DeMauley: demauley@parliament.uk
    And write to your MP.

  2. Heidi Perryman says:

    Beaver benefit to fish population has been well documented for years, in fact the MORE degraded the stream system the more dramatic the improvements. The failure of the Angler’s Trust to pay more attention to scientific data than they pay to their worries and fears is a real disappointment. How will the UK fish population ever recover if it is protected only by rumor and suspicion?

    Heidi Perryman, Ph.D.
    Worth A Dam
    http://www.martinezbeavers.org

  3. Rory Munro says:

    Many more people want to see this native return than a few overly powerful landed gentry and the ‘get off my land’ brigade. One of the most vocal objectors to the Scottish re-introductions said he didn’t ‘want beavers eating his fish’. Ignorance is the greatest impediment to improving and rebuilding our environment.

  4. Castor Anglicus says:
  5. Bluecloud says:

    Leave the beaver alone!

    Defra are pandering to a lobby group who have no idea about the benefits beaver offer. They are only interested in trout fishing.

    BTW:

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

    This is in fact wrong. 2 – 5% of beaver in Bavaria are hosts to this parasite. It’s most likely they escaped from a local collection, so start by finding out where these came from. If it was Norway there is nothing to worry about.

  6. summer says:

    Beavers were native to Great Britain and hunted to extinction by about 1750.
    They are being successfully re-introduced in Scotland and throughout Europe.
    A family has existed in the river Otter for some years. Now their presence has been publicised, the Department for Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have been lobbied by the Angling Association to remove the Beavers. (Though not all Anglers support the Trust’s position!).
    They are apparently planning to put them in a zoo in which they typically do not do well, or kill them.
    Beavers do not eat fish, they are vegetarian and they actually help migrating fish by creating regular small pools along their migration journey. Studies of the beavers have shown that they are of great benefit to the rivers ecology and increase species of bird, plant, insect and aquatic life. Trout thrive in beaver ponds and their damns are low and permeable.
    They also slow down the rivers creating a natural flood defence.
    DEFRA say there is a remote chance they could carry a fox tapeworm which is not in the UK. This can be easily tested for by analysing their faeces and would not require their removal (unless tested positive). Imported beavers come from countries free of this parasite, so the likelihood is fairly obscure.
    There are many online petitions asking for the beavers to be left alone. A consultation with local people has been requested.
    So far these have fallen on deaf ears and DEFRA are apparently planning their attack in the next few weeks.
    The Devon Wildlife Trust and other charities have asked for a change in policy, to test for the parasite and monitor the beavers.
    This has been rejected by DEFRA at the behest of ministers.
    Please sign petitions, write to your MP Hugo Swire and the minister involved Lord DeMauley (DEFRA Parliamentary Secretary of State) and spread the word!
    Summer Moon /
    Lorna Woodward

  7. cast-a-thread says:

    I am an angler and I live by the beavers on the river otter.
    They have been around quite some time and their presence on the river is very difficut to spot. There is no beaver stereotypical dams or lodges, they live alongside the otters and water voles in bankside burrows.They are strict vegetarians and eat leaves and bark from the many trees that have been washed into the river, himalayan balsam, grasses and reeds along the bankside, helping keep the water channel clear.
    I have read and heard many people who are clearly very uninformed about the actual beaver presence here on the river otter and are greatly misguided by stories from elsewhere. I applaud Derek Gow’s recent accurate and reasonable account of the position.
    Yes it is early days and there isn’t a crystal ball to see into the future. That is why Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) are proposing a temporary monitoring and management period to assess the impact of these beavers and inform future decisions about them.
    As one of the local people directly affected I have a major stake and this should also be a say in if the beavers stay or leave. I see DWT proposed way forward as reasonable, balanced and sustainable and is supported by the local people.
    Does this government care about the views of the people directly affected? It should, but is there some hidden reason or agenda for seeking purely to destroy their lives here on the river otter? Will they attend a public meeting as requested, here in the river otter catchment where they can explain in detail their plans, provide further information and answer any questions raised by the public. Or will they just ignore the peoples wishes and continue hidden reason or agenda?

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