Landowner welcomes River Otter beaver reintroduction trial
Clinton Devon Estates, the biggest landowner on the lower River Otter, says it welcomes the awarding of license by Natural England to Devon Wildlife Trust for a five year trial reintroduction of beavers. However, it says that the long-term success of the project will depend on landowners, local authorities and communities agreeing details of how their population and activities will need to be managed in the future.
Dr Sam Bridgewater, Nature Conservation Manager for Clinton Devon Estates says that the focus of the debate needs to be 20 to 30 years from now, taking into consideration that the beaver population will expand and move further up the catchment or between catchments. He explained: “We need to look at what’s happened on the continent where there were fewer than 2000 beavers at the start of the 20th Century but there are now over 600,000.”
Reintroductions of beavers in other countries have repeatedly shown that their presence is, on balance, beneficial to river systems through their ability to engineer and improve the environment for other species. However, their presence has also been the cause of conflict with local communities and authorities through their potential to block ditches and culverts and flood adjacent land and properties.
Dr Bridgewater added: “If their numbers increase, then it is inevitable that they will eventually start to engineer their local environment. This will bring all kinds of benefits such as a potential slowing down of flood waters and an increase in the diversity of wildlife habitats, but will also likely cause some grief. I think a key issue for the authorities to address is that mechanisms are put in place to allow any conflicts to be avoided quickly in the future.”
Dr Bridgewater, who is responsible for the management of the River Otter Estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest as well as the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths, a European Special Protection Area, said: “We have a strong conservation team on the estate and significant experience of managing sites and species of European importance, and are very happy to work with other parties such as Natural England and the Devon Wildlife Trust to ensure this trial is a success.”
“As part of the consultation, we highlighted to Natural England that a number of measures must be put in place to ensure the long-term success of the project. These include; a professional organisation being created and up-and-running by the time the five-year trial ends to provide management and support to landowners where conflict arises; a streamlined licensing system which allows issues which require a licence to be addressed promptly within a fixed timescale; and the establishment of a fund to compensate individuals whose livelihoods can be proven to have been damaged by the beavers.”
Clinton Devon Estates owns and manages land along the four-and-a-half-mile stretch of the lower River Otter near Budleigh Salterton in East Devon as well as approximately three miles of adjacent land between the villages of Otterton and Newton Poppleford.
Dr Bridgewater said: “Although there are some concerns about the future management of the beavers, there are some exciting opportunities for improving wildlife in the longer term. Once all fears over the presence of disease in the existing populations are allayed, then we very much look forward to taking a lead role in the trial on the land we manage.”
Beavers can carry the tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis (EM) which can be passed to other mammals such as dogs and foxes, and in humans can lead to a life-threatening disease, alveolar echinococcosis. The UK is currently judged to be EM free.
The Devon Wildlife Trust was granted a five-year licence from Natural England today to monitor the beavers which have set up home on the River Otter. The license is subject to a range of conditions.
The Wildlife Trust’s Peter Burgess has said that beavers have not lived in a well-populated, agriculturally productive English landscape for hundreds of years, adding: “We need to ensure that any negative impacts of beavers are avoided. This will mean working alongside the Environment Agency, local authorities and landowners to manage any problems that may arise over the coming years.”
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