Beavers to return to Wales in 2014?
Welsh Beaver Project planning to reintroduce beavers to Wales in 2014
Will beavers return to Wales in 2014? Photo credit Welsh Beaver Project
June 2013. Since 2005 the Welsh Beaver Project, which is led by the six Wildlife Trusts in Wales, has been investigating the feasibility of undertaking a managed reintroduction of beavers to Wales for the many benefits their presence can bring to wildlife, the environment and the economy. After much investigation and consideration, the River Rheidol (which enters Cardigan Bay through Aberystwyth) is looking like the most promising site for an initial pilot reintroduction and local consultation is underway.
Assuming everything goes according to plan, 30 - 40 young (2-3 years old) beavers, (equally split between males and females) sourced from a combination of captive bred beavers from collections within the UK and beavers from Norway, will be released in the spring/summer 2014.
Beavers are native to Wales and were once widespread from Britain to Siberia, but hunting by humans for fur, meat and scent glands dramatically reduced their populations and led to their extinction from Wales by around the 15th century.
Beavers are natural managers of rivers and wetlands, performing ‘ecosystem services' that assist many other species, including humans. They are herbivores, eating vegetation, coppicing bankside trees, creating glades and enabling woodland and aquatic plants to flourish. This provides ideal habitat for insects, birds and mammals, as well as increased food for fish.
Small streams dammed
Beavers only dam smaller streams and usually only if the water is less than around one metre in depth. The resulting pond mosaics are fabulous for wildlife such as dragonflies, frogs, waterfowl and water voles. They also provide excellent habitat and cover from predators for fish, especially during prolonged dry periods.
Beaver dams also help slow water-flow through catchments, reducing bank erosion, trapping sediment, cleaning rivers and improving them for fish such as Atlantic salmon. By holding back water, dams can also reduce downstream flooding. Evidence from mainland Europe and elsewhere shows that beaver dams pose little problem to migratory fish, especially when managed.
Beavers stay close to water, rarely wandering far, with 95% of activity occurring within just 10m of the water's edge, and their populations are naturally capped by habitat availability.
Beavers can sometimes cause localised problems such as dam building in the ‘wrong' place, or unwanted tree felling, but there are well-established, low-cost solutions to all these issues and a controlled reintroduction of beavers would include a comprehensive plan for their future management. This would ensure that we can maximise all the benefits of beavers whilst minimising any problems.
Scottish beavers driving tourism
Beaver-watching is very popular and as beavers come out at dawn and dusk seeing them usually involves overnight stays, which helps local guesthouses, campsites, pubs, restaurants and local businesses. The Scottish Beaver Trial in Knapdale has provided hard evidence of this with one hotel owner reporting an increase in profits of £25,000 as a result of the beavers being present. A report by Oxford University's consultancy WildCRU suggested that, all things considered, the economic benefits of beavers can outweigh the costs of their management by as much as 100:1, so beaver reintroduction also makes economic sense (However, in the case of the Scottish beavers, this is ignoring the estimated £2 million cost of the reintroduction scheme).
For more information, visit the Welsh Beaver Project website at welshbeaverproject.org or call 01352 755472.