• Catching Devon’s wild beavers will be tricky, Defra concedes

    13th July 2014 | News | Claire
  • Government plans to capture a family of beavers roaming wild in Devon could take months, the Western Morning News understands.

    Officials at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have conceded the animals will be extremely difficult to round up, meaning they are to enjoy an extending period of freedom.

    Beavers, once native to the UK, were hunted to extinction here 500 years ago as they were prized for their fur, meat and scent glands.

    The three rodents were filmed together earlier this year – a sighting wildlife experts suggested was “highly significant” as it suggested a small breeding population of beavers now existed outside captivity. No-one is sure how they got there.

    In a letter to the Angling Trust, which wants the beavers removed, Defra has said it is willing to use emergency powers to capture the animals if landowners fail to co-operate.

    But a source at the Whitehall department has told the WMN that tracking the animals is proving “tricky”, potentially meaning the issue will be in the in-tray of the next government.

    Ministers want to send the beavers to a zoo in case they are carrying an undesirable tape worm. But beaver experts say this is a smokescreen as those in captivity have been imported from countries where the parasite is not found.

    Sightings of the beavers have been rare, with some suggestions they have since moved from the river near Ottery St Mary to closer to Honiton 15 miles away.

    Councillor Claire Wright, independent member of East Devon District Council, said there was “general bafflement” in the area as to why they should be removed.

    She said: “Human beings were responsible for the extinction of beavers in this country several hundred years ago because they were hunted for their fur, so it is now our responsibility to do what we can to support beavers’ reintroduction to our rivers.

    “And they are good for rivers too, helping with water purity and they are completely vegetarian, so are no threat to small animals.

    “The decision to let them stay should be made by the community, not by officials from London. There is a lot of support locally for them remaining on the river and general bafflement about why Defra would want to remove them. There needs to be a full consultation before any decisions are made.”

    The Angling Trust has been campaigning against moves to introduce beavers to England because of the damage that they can do to rivers, migrating fish runs and the potential spread of diseases.

    Mark Lloyd, chief Executive of the Angling Trust, said: “Nowadays too many people seem to want to see ‘rewilded’ mammals introduced to our landscapes, but we must re-build damaged river ecosystems from the bottom up, not from the top down.

    “Urgent and concerted Action is needed to restore habitats and fish populations in our rivers rather than irresponsible re-introduction programmes.”