Devon beavers move home

Don’t worry, say wildlife experts – River Otter beavers haven’t gone but may just be harder to spot during the winter.

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England’s only wild beavers are alive and well and may have relocated their homes along the river where they live in East Devon.

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Some recent reports suggested that the beavers had disappeared after an absence of sightings over several weeks, but conservationists say they have seen fresh signs of beaver activity.

“Beavers are mobile animals and it’s quite common for them to shift their lodges and feeding grounds,” said Mark Elliott of Devon Wildlife Trust.

“There’s lots of room for beavers on this river so it’s unsurprising that they have relocated from the places that we saw them last spring and summer,” Elliott added.

Devon Wildlife Trust is leading a five-year study of the beavers, which escaped onto the River Otter by accident and were found to be breeding there in February 2014.

The beavers also bred this year – in May, a female gave birth to three kits, raising the known population to 12.

Many local people saw the beavers over the summer, mainly close to their lodge on a stretch of river near Ottery St Mary.

They are the only known group of wild beavers in England, through there are currently two in Scotland: in Knapdale, on Scotland’s west coast, there is a small population that was released as part of an official trial, while in Tayside, there is a much larger one of 150-200 that has grown from accidental or unofficial releases of captive animals around the late 1990s or early 2000s.

Flooding in parts of Britain in recent weeks has led to fresh calls from some wildlife experts for beavers to be reintroduced more widely.

Their natural behaviour of taking down trees and damming rivers acts as a natural way of slowing down river flow at times of high rainfall and thus reducing flooding downstream.

Devon Wildlife Trust is studying this aspect of their ecology at a site in North Devon where they have captive beavers in a large 3ha enclosure.

More on the River Otter Beaver Trial

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Find out about Scotland’s wild beavers