A major five-year study into the impacts of beavers on the English countryside has concluded that the water-living mammals can bring measurable benefits to people and wildlife.
The study focusses upon the work of the River Otter Beaver Trial which has been led by Devon Wildlife Trust, working in partnership with the University of Exeter, Clinton Devon Estates and the Derek Gow Consultancy.
Evidence presented by scientists who have studied the beavers since 2015 has concluded that the “quantifiable costs and benefits of beaver reintroduction [of wild beavers to the River Otter, in East Devon] demonstrates that the ecosystem services and social benefits accrued are greater than the financial costs incurred”.
The ‘Science and Evidence Report’, which is published today, is based on research undertaken by a team of scientists overseen by Professor Richard Brazier from the University of Exeter. It concludes that other wildlife has greatly benefitted from the beavers’ presence, while their dam building activities have also helped reduce the risk of flooding to some flood threatened human settlements. It also concludes that while beavers have created localised problems for a handful of farmers and property owners, these can be successfully and straightforwardly managed with the right support and intervention.
The 130-page Report is published today by the River Otter Beaver Trial and is the culmination of a five-year study of England’s first licensed release of beavers into the wild in England since they were hunted to extinction more than 400 years ago. The report can now be accessed via on the University of Exeter website, and contains links to on-line videos and scientific papers and research reports compiled during the trial period https://www.exeter.ac.uk/creww/research/beavertrial.
Among the key findings of the research are:
The University of Exeter’s Prof Richard Brazier is the chair of the Science and Evidence Forum that published the report. Prof Brazier said:
“Following five years of detailed research work, the Report concludes that the positive impacts of beavers outweighed the negatives. A summary of the quantifiable cost and benefits of beaver reintroduction demonstrates that the ecosystem services and social benefits accrued are greater than the financial costs incurred. However, it also makes clear that those who benefit from beaver reintroduction may not always be the same people as those who bear the costs, highlighting that the reduction of flood risk in communities downstream may come at a cost of water being stored on farmland upstream.”
Devon Wildlife Trust’s Mark Elliott has led the River Otter Beaver Trial for the past five years. Mark said:
“I think we’ve all been surprised by these amazing animals’ ability to thrive, once again, in our wetland ecosystems. It also shows their unrivalled capacity to breathe new life into our rivers and wetlands, very few of which are in good health. We have seen over these five years, how beavers really do have the ability to help to restore the natural processes that all our wetland wildlife depends on. As a society we get so much benefit from healthy rivers and streams that function naturally – we just need to give them greater space and appreciate them more – beavers play a crucial role in helping with that. The key to success will be to provide support for all landowners to make space for wetlands on their land – ensuring those who enable these far-reaching benefits to be provided are also able to manage their thriving rural businesses.”
The River Otter Beaver Trial’s ‘Science and Evidence Report’ has now been presented to Natural England and to Defra for a decision on the future of East Devon’s beavers, and the status of the species in England.
Natural England Chair Tony Juniper said:
“It is fantastic to see the successful reintroduction of these wonderful and fascinating creatures. Natural England has licensed this trial and I commend the work of the Devon Wildlife Trust in helping to show how beavers can have such a transformative positive impact on the natural world, while at the same time bringing practical benefits for people.
“This is a massive step towards boosting the richness of wildlife around the River Otter, reducing pollution, mitigating flooding and making this landscape more resilient to climate change.”
John Varley, Estates Director at Clinton Devon Estates, said:
“Clinton Devon Estates is proud to have played a key role in the delivery of the River Otter Beaver Trial. We have seen first-hand the benefits that beavers can bring, while also becoming more aware of the potential conflicts that can arise. What has been clear is the many ecological and biodiversity benefits that have resulted from their presence, along with their dam building activities which can mitigate flooding and also help to reduce water pollution.
“This vital research is an excellent example of how we can work with nature to improve the environment for both people and wildlife.”
A Defra spokesperson said:
“With the agreement of the Devon Wildlife Trust, Defra has taken the decision to extend the River Otter Beaver Trial until the 31st August 2020, so that Natural England and the Department can make the necessary assessments of the Trial reports and findings, recently submitted in the Trust’s Science & Evidence Report.
“This, alongside the Trial’s Beaver Management Strategy Framework, will help to inform decisions on the future of the Devon animals and the status of beaver in England, including potential management and licensing approaches.”
The River Otter Beaver Trial’s ‘Science and Evidence Report’ is available now to read at https://www.exeter.ac.uk/creww/research/beavertrial.