Last summer DEFRA hinted that it may want to cull the beavers and then indicated that they may be sent to a zoo. It also suggested that the beavers may be carrying a disease (the chance of this was remote and even more remote that humans could catch it).
National online campaigns got underway fast and tens of thousands of people signed to protect the animals.
I sent countless emails to DEFRA and to our MP, Hugo Swire, over the months, arguing for the animals to be allowed to stay. I have carried out many media interviews on the benefits of them being here – and how much public support they have locally.
Devon Wildlife Trust organised a public consultation event in August which attracted around 100 residents, who were overwhelmingly in favour of the beavers staying put.
Then Friends of the Earth got into the fray in October and threatened legal action against DEFRA if officials went ahead with plans to remove the animals.
A softening of position then seemed to take place, with Natural England (arm of DEFRA) holding its own public consultation event on 14 January, with local people turning out in force and making their views very clear.
The beavers should remain!
Today’s decision is moment in time. Hopefully a marker has now been set down which will avoid kneejerk reactions in the future, aimed at controlling, rather than working with, nature.
The beavers are native to this country. Human beings caused them to become extinct hundreds of years ago. It is now our responsibility to bring them back – and enjoy the biodiverse environment that they create.
The statement from Natural England is below ……
Natural England approves trial release of beavers
Natural England’s Board has today, Wednesday 28 January, confirmed that a licence will be issued to Devon Wildlife Trust, permitting the managed release into the wild of beavers currently resident in the River Otter catchment in Devon, on a five year trial basis.
Devon Wildlife Trust’s licence application has been thoroughly assessed against the internationally recognised guidelines published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The licence is subject to a range of conditions, including confirmation that the beavers are of Eurasian origin and are free of the Echinococcus multilocularis parasite.
Under the terms of the licence, by September at the latest, Devon Wildlife Trust must develop a management strategy to deal quickly with any undesirable impacts which the beavers may have on the River Otter during the trial period, as well as a monitoring programme to study their impacts.
Andrew Sells, Natural England’s Chairman commented: “Reintroduction of a species is a complicated and emotive subject and we have considered this application very carefully. Responses to our written consultation and public meetings have been generally positive and we are now satisfied with Devon Wildlife Trust’s plans for managing and monitoring the project, which will allow important evidence to be gathered during the trial on any impacts which the beavers may have.”
Future decisions by Natural England on the release of beavers will, in large part, be informed by results of this trial. The unauthorised release of beavers remains illegal and Natural England does not expect to grant any other licences for beaver release during this trial period.
Trapping and testing of the animals for Echinococcus multilocularis will be carried out by the Animal Plant Health Agency (APHA) under a separate licence that was granted towards the end of 2014.
Photograph: The river Otter, where our beavers live.