Beavers: Clinton Devon Estates - September 2014
As a landowner responsible for land management along the stretch of the lower River Otter where beavers are now present, we are taking expert advice. The purpose of the advice is to better understand how the potential re-introduction of this once native species under licence would impact the riverine ecosystem, the broader existing farmed environment, and people, throughout this and adjacent catchments over the longer term.
We recognise that there is scientific evidence which strongly indicates that the presence of native beavers, in British rivers supporting appropriate beaver habitat, can be ecologically beneficial. However, we also recognise that in certain circumstances their habitat modifications can present barriers to threatened native species of migrating fish. Their activity can also potentially be in conflict with existing land management practices. One constant lesson from beaver re-introductions elsewhere in Europe is the need for subsequent management and a robust strategy should beavers cause problems for agriculture, forestry or local communities.
Along with Natural England and Defra we are reviewing lessons learnt from other countries and are keenly awaiting the results of a five year beaver re-introduction trial in Scotland which began in May 2009. We support the current government policy of trapping those beavers currently present in the River Otter to ensure that they are not carriers of Echinococcus multilocularis, a Taenid tapeworm not currently known in the wild in Britain. This tapeworm has been known to be present in imported beavers. It is one of the most pathogenic, parasitic zoonoses present in Central Europe and is the cause of alveolar echinococcosis disease in humans, which can be fatal. Every effort should be made to ensure that the tapeworm is not introduced into the British countryside.
The decision whether to license the introduction of beavers will ultimately be made by Natural England who will follow strict and well-informed national and international guidelines on this issue. This will include consideration of a report published by Natural England in 2009 on the feasibility and acceptability of reintroducing the European beaver to England http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/45003 and IUCN guidelines on the reintroduction of species (https://portals.iucn.org/library/sites/library/files/documents/2013-009.pdf). All guidelines highlight a number of issues that need to be fully understood and/or resolved prior to any re-introduction programme being approved. These include ensuring that detailed habitat and human-beaver interaction risk analyses and population modelling are undertaken. In addition, the former report recommends clarification of the legislative mechanisms to protect and manage beaver populations in the UK. Although beaver management techniques are well understood, the costs and responsibility for management and mitigation need to be clarified. Management and intervention (including, potentially, removal of beavers and / or their lodges and structures) would also need to have full public support. Such support is often absent for the management of other wildlife groups. The clarification of all these issues not only ensures minimisation of future conflicts, but also would ensure the long-term welfare and success of the species and the delivery of anticipated ecological benefits.
Although we are excited about the presence of beavers on land we manage, we feel it would not be responsible to countenance their release without due consideration of their broader impact on the countryside. Over the coming months we will be working closely with Natural England, Defra and other interested parties such as the Devon Wildlife Trust to assess the desirability of initiating a re-introduction programme based on good scientific evidence that is relevant to the River Otter.
If beavers were introduced onto Estate land we would wish to be directly involved in their management through our Conservation Trust.