Following River Sid Beaver Extinction In The16th Century What Is The Potential for Beaver Re-establishment? Are They Good For Environment & When Might They Appear? This Post Explains How Beavers Will Likely Return And When!

The European Beaver, aka Eurasian Beaver, Castor fiber, was hunted for its fur and castoreum in Europe. It disappeared from England in the 16th century, (probably about 1780) with numbers across Eurasia being reduced to around 1200, in fragmented populations. The Eurasian beaver is a different species to the beavers found in north America. In this article I deal with the river Sid Beaver Extinction and potential re-establishment.

An Eurasian Beaver in Norway 
Per Harald Olsen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
An Eurasian Beaver in Norway
Per Harald Olsen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

However, in 2013 a population of three adult beavers mysteriously reappeared on the River Otter and resulted in the River Otter Beaver Trial. Where the beavers came from, and how they got there, we can only speculate. But they clearly love the environment as they have established, bred and spread throughout the catchment. There are now 13 or more family groups on the river and tributaries.

The recent story in Europe is similar with an increase in numbers across the piece.

Beavers are now protected as stated on the Natural England website where it says

On 1 October 2022 the legislation changed to protect wild-living beavers in England. Beavers are now listed in Schedule 2 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, making it an offence to deliberately capture, injure, kill or disturb beavers, or damage and destroy their breeding sites or resting places without a wildlife management licence from Natural England. This follows Scotland’s decision to make beavers a protected species in 2019.

Natural England

Why Are Beavers Important?

Beavers are a keystone species and can quickly reshape the landscape, taking it back to a more natural state.

Beavers inhabit streams, rivers and lakes where they sometimes construct temporary dams to increase water depth. These dams, which slow down water flow, help to reduce flooding by evening our the water flow from headwaters. The result is reduced flash flooding downstream, in towns, villages and on farmland. And with an increase in heavy storms and flash floods, due to climate change, that has to be good news for people.

Continued below the video.

I filmed this feeding beaver on the Otter near Otterton a few years ago.

Dams also mean a reduction in soil erosion. In turn that means river gravels don’t get swamped by sediment and fish can breed. Plus our drains and ditches don’t so readily block with eroded soil.

People, the environment and wildlife al benefit from beavers being present.

The ponding effect of dams on streams quickly sees an increase in fish, amphibians and birds. Surveys on the Otter catchment indicates an increase in fish numbers within dammed areas of around 37%. However the figures need viewing with some care as they are limited in scope. More in-depth research on other catchments, where beavers are within very large enclosures, indicate much higher fish numbers in these situations. Amphibian numbers in these areas are incredibly high. Time will tell us more about fish numbers.

Insect numbers increase in the ponded areas, which in turn feed the fish and birds. The increases recorded has always staggered me. Species such as frogs can rebound in a season and they bring back so many other species. More fish and frogs lead to more food for otters.

Beavers don’t eat the fish, frogs, birds or other wildlife. They are vegetarian. They eat plants growing in the water and nearby. At some times of year they eat tree bark and fell trees to make their dams. Where the trees and shrubs are coppiced by beavers like this there is always an increase in new growth of coppiced plants. Plus many plants are encouraged by the increase in light levels.

Not all beavers build dams. They only do so to increase water levels for safety reasons. Where water is deeper they don’t need to bother with this but still coppice some river bank shrubs for food. In both cases it is win win.

Win Win Or Are There Problems?

Where dams are built there is sometimes a rise in water that is problematic. A dam resulting in flooding doesn’t matter much on inferior land, and many would argue can offset any issues by the increase in biodiversity. But what if that land is highly productive farmland?

To date farmers suffering from damaged crops and flooding have been compensated. This hasn’t been needed often but is a necessary consideration.

Where cost benefit analysis has been conducted the conclusion is that the benefits probably outweigh the costs.

Will Beavers Naturally Establish On The Sid?

I frequently hear people say that beavers don’t move far from water and are shy creatures. I’m unconvinced.

On the Otter the beavers are quite happy to be in close proximity with people. I’ve seen up to 20 people on the bank observing them and they appeared totally unconcerned. If they were stressed by people I suspect they wouldn’t have bred so successfully.

But what about moving away from water?

In nature animals please themselves when not constrained by humans and other factors. They naturally move between watercourses. If they didn’t they wouldn’t spread across continents and groups that didn’t mix would soon inbreed and be genetically restricted.

In Devon beavers from the Otter have already moved into the Culm catchment on at least one occasion, and had to be captured and returned “home”.

Whereas mature adults may not move huge distances I suspect it is the immature males and females that move into other catchments in search of territories and mates.

The Otter beavers are now established in a nearby town. Honiton. They were first noticed on the Gissage in 2021. The only known beaver road casualty was just north of Honiton where the river Otter goes under the road to Dunkeswell.

It is however the Gissage beaver that interests me most. The source of the Gissage is high in the hills near Putts Corner. This is very close to the source of the Sid. The distance between the Gissage and Sid appears to me to be closer than the distance between the source of the Otter and Culm. And we know beavers have moved between these two. The chances of beaver travelling the few hundred yards between the Gissage and Sid are very high. It might have already happened. If it hasn’t I predict it will within the next year or two at most.

This article is one in as series being written to examine the possibility of species reintroduction in the Sid Valley. Please feel free to comment, debate or offer articles for inclusion in this series. The first Lost Wildlife of the Sid Valley article in the series is here

More Sid Beaver Extinction or Re-establishment Information

There’s a lot more on beaver reintroductions on the Rewilding Britain website. Plus the story of the River Otter beavers is told on the Devon Wildlife Trust site. For a far more detailed report on the River Otter Beaver Trials click this link.

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Tag: Sid Beaver Extinction

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