A record number of beavers will be released by the Wildlife Trusts into Britain this year as the industrious mammal is restored to five counties where they have been extinct for hundreds of years.
The popular rodent, whose dams have been shown to boost hundreds of species of insects, amphibians, birds, fish and plants, is returning to Dorset, Derbyshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Nottinghamshire and Montgomeryshire.
Last year the government allowed free-living beavers unofficially let loose into the River Otter in Devon to remain there, but all licensed releases into the wild in England and Wales are into large enclosed areas. There are, however, other unofficial beaver populations living freely on some river systems.
Craig Bennett, the chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “Beavers are a fantastic keystone species that have a hugely important role to play in restoring nature to Britain. It’s brilliant to see wildlife trusts across the UK ensuring a better future for wetlands and for a wealth of other wildlife by bringing back beavers whose engineering capabilities inject new life into wild places.
“The benefits for people are clear – beavers help stop flooding downstream, filter out impurities and they create new homes for otters, water voles and kingfishers. What’s more, people love seeing them and their presence boosts tourism in the countryside.”
This month Dorset Wildlife Trust released beavers into an enclosure on a wetland nature reserve. Two beaver families and their kits will be released on to a 12-hectare enclosed area of Willington Wetlands reserve in the Trent valley by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, while Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust plans to place beavers into a huge enclosure at its Idle Valley nature reserve.
Subject to licence approvals, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust plans to release beavers on the Isle of Wight for the first time, while the first officially licensed release of beavers in Wales will be by Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust at its Cors Dyfi reserve near Machynlleth.
Beavers enjoy huge public support, with a poll finding 76% of people in favour of reintroducing the animals. The charity Trees for Life has crowdfunded more than £60,000 to challenge the Scottish government in court over its policy of culling beavers if they cause problems on agricultural land. Trees for Life says the government has failed to make culling a “last resort” for controlling the animals.
A five-year study of fenced and wild beavers last year revealed how beaver dams prevent flooding by drastically slowing the flow of streams, purify water polluted by nitrates and phosphates, store carbon and create an explosion in other wildlife.
After beavers were released into a two-hectare enclosure in west Devon, frogspawn increased from 10 clumps to 681 clumps, attracting predators such as herons and egrets, while dragonflies, butterflies, aquatic plants, flowers and trees thrived in new pools created by the beavers.