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Beavers are back in Devon! Breeding animals spotted on River Otter

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: February 27, 2014

  • The beavers at play in the River Otter. Pic by Tom Buckley

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The Westcountry beaver mystery deepens… A month ago news broke that a beaver had been filmed living wild on the River Otter in Devon - now the expert who’s been filming the area with night-vision cameras has captured images of a family of three cavorting in the stream.

Which raises the questions surrounding the mystery in to a more puzzling league… A single beaver - or even a pair - may have escaped from an animal park, but the appearance of a third suggests that one of the creatures captured on video is an offspring.

“It would have to be at least two years old to be the size that it is - which begs the question: have these animals been living out in the wild for that long?” asks Tom Buckley, the retired environmental scientist who has been filming the beavers using special cameras.

Now it can be revealed that since his footage was released this week Britain’s leading beaver expert has not only confirmed that the younger animal is a juvenile, but that it is flourishing particularly well in the Devon environment.

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This has inspired Derek Gow, who runs a wildlife consultancy from his Westcountry farm, to call for the beaver family’s protection: “Defra could decide to trap or shoot these animals - there should be public concern about this because these are actually native animals.

“Would it be right to exterminate animals that are not only indigenous to this country but are obviously flourishing here?” he asked the WMN. “That baby is maybe two years old - but more probably only a year old - and yet it is fat and healthy. They are obviously doing well on the River Otter.

“The reintroduction of species is a wild card - the law is very unclear with animals like this,” he went on. “It begs the question about what is really native.”

Mr Gow, who has been linked with previous attempts reintroduce beavers to the wild in England, was also involved with their successful reinstatement in Scotland, and he commented: “When you look at the hoops you have to go through to get permission to do something like this - you are looking at a system that ensures applications will fail. This is a very happy family of beavers - they ought to be allowed to continue living on the river.

“This could well be the first family of beavers breeding in the wild since they became extinct here in the 1700s. From an official view they should not be there - but we’ve worked long and hard to find a site for an officially sanctioned place. Now this family has appeared I think it’s good news - it’s a thing we should have done a long time ago,” said Mr Gow.

Steven Hussey, of the Devon Wildlife Trust, issued a more cautious overview: “This is not the way to go about having beavers reintroduced to the English countryside - it would be better if it was done in a planned way - but now that they are here we need to really take a close look at the impact they’ll have.”

The Western Morning News was invited to the area for a closer look this week by landowner David Lawrence and although we didn’t see any actual beavers we did see plenty of evidence of their activities.

Indeed, there are parts of the river near Ottery St Mary where you could be forgiven for thinking you’d been magically airlifted to Canada… The river enters an exaggerated meandering phase on the flood-plain to form both islands and oxbow-lakes.

These have effectively taken the landscape out of the agricultural use so that all manner of wild vegetation has flourished, including fully grown trees. You don’t have to walk far to spot the classic tell-tale evidence of beaver intrusion - trunks up to a foot in diameter have been nibbled to a point so that the tree above has keeled over into the wet areas of marsh.

Mr Lawrence seemed relaxed about the idea of having wild beavers breeding on his land: “We might have to go in one day and clear some of the felled trees so they won’t be a nuisance downstream in Tipton if it floods. But it’s all very interesting - my wife has just started a holiday business with a safari tent and this will give people something extra to look at.”

Especially in summer, according to Mr Gow… “The young will come out on the lodges to play and if you go in the early morning period in June or July you should see them. The breeding period is now - in February or March.”

Which ties exactly with some of the recent footage captured by Mr Buckley who has seen two of the animals enjoying what can only be described as “amorous” behaviour. It seems England’s only population of wild beavers could be about to grow.

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