nature: BEAVERS ON TRIAL
The delightful River Otter meets the sea at the eastern end of Budleigh Salterton beach and a walk along the riverbank will often reward wildlife enthusiasts with sightings of interesting birds, reptiles and mammals. This habitat has a claim to fame that viewers of BBC’s Springwatch will recognise, and you can learn about it in the Fairlynch Environment Room.
A few years ago some observant local people began reporting they’d seen very unusual animals in the River Otter. The rumours were true, as videos soon proved. Apparently the river had been ‘beaver-bombed’.
Probably four adult animals were released into the river as early as 2007 and genetic tests later showed that they were possibly connected to a group of beavers reintroduced to a river in Germany. Two of the River Otter beavers bred, producing a single female kit. These were the original five animals that brought about the country’s first official reintroduction trial.
With the agreement of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Natural England, the Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) www.devonwildlifetrust.org and the major landowner Clinton Devon Estates (CDE), a five year River Otter Beaver Trial (ROBT) began in 2015. Several organisations have been involved in monitoring the trial including the Centre for Resilience in Environment, Water and Waste (CREWW) at the University of Exeter and at the end of February 2020 a report was published and presented to DEFRA. DEFRA has extended the trial until the end of Summer 2020 and will then decide if the beavers can stay or not.
There is no doubt that the River Otter and its tributaries suit the beavers, but their foraging and water engineering activities have challenged a few residents and land users. Beavers are herbivores and can be partial to fruit trees and maize crops. They burrow into riverbanks and like to create pools of deep water by building dams in tributaries, creating new wetland behind the dams. This slows the flow of water downstream and benefits other wildlife such as amphibians, trout and water voles, but it can flood agricultural land that was previously productive. Devon Wildlife Trust and the other ROBT partners have developed mitigating strategies such as the use of ‘beaver deceivers’ in some dams – these are buried pipes that stop the dams working as well as the beavers would like!
HEADER PHOTOS CREDITS: David White