But residents also heard that DEFRA would be capturing and keeping the animals for testing at an unknown location for maybe months.
DEFRA says it is worried about a disease known as EM that the beavers may have, which could possibly be living in their gut and cause cysts. However, it is only the adults that could have it and only if they are imported beavers, not locally escaped beavers.
Adults live between seven and eight years and sightings of the beavers on the Otter, have been reported for almost a decade.
For humans to contract EM, which can be serious, a dog or fox must scavenge a beaver carcass and then a human must pick up the disease from dog faeces. The risk is thought to be extremely low.
To me, DEFRA’s reaction seems irrational and odd. Surely we face more dangers crossing roads every day, than from a disease which the beavers probably don’t even have – and even if they did, the chances of anyone contracting it, would be tiny.
DEFRA say that they will put traps down along the river to catch the beavers in the autumn. The traps, which measure about four feet wide by two feet deep, will probably be placed along most of the river’s length.
Some residents were concerned by the possible damage that the beavers could do. Devon Wildlife Trust staff shared films of captive beavers that they are studying in North Devon in a fenced off part of the countryside. We saw them nibble trees, make dams and use the channels they created as canals to transport tree branches.
Staff confirmed that they do nibble trees and cause some damage, however, any problems are likely to be limited because the beavers are native animals and live in harmony with their surroundings.
The Angling Trust has made vociferous objections to DEFRA, to the animals living wild on the Otter. They say they are concerned about dams and migrating fish.
However, it is thought that the beavers are unlikely to dam the river Otter because it is too wide.
In North Devon the biodiversity has significantly increased with the beavers presence, attracting more amphibians and birds to the area, as well as helping to purify the water.
As herbivores, they do not eat fish or any other flesh.
Already a road that is regularly flooded nearby, has stopped flooding because of the beavers doing their work.
Derek Gow, a beaver expert and environmentalist, who has been pivotal to raising awareness of DEFRA’s plans, said that he was concerned for the animals stress levels. They are wild creatures and capturing them and keeping them in family groups would be enormously difficult he said.
The kits cannot manage without their parents and could well die if separated.
We heard that most local landowners spoken to so far, were supportive of the beavers remaining on the Otter. Cllr Roger Giles read out a message from local farmer, John Vinnicombe, who said they had done a bit of damage on his land but not much and wanted to see them stay.
I said that I was poised ready for action if DEFRA did not return the animals within a short space of time. There can be no excuses for DEFRA hanging on to them for months. They must test them quickly and bring them back to the Otter as a priority to minimise the inevitable huge stress that the creatures will be under, once they are captured.
As one resident pointed out with a note of irony, our government lectures other governments about preserving their tigers, lions and elephants … but when it comes to a previously extinct native species that is living happily and harmlessly on a Devon river they rush in and remove them … just in case …. they might possibly … have a disease that would be virtually impossible to catch.
A show of hands at the end of the meeting indicated that the support for them remaining on the river was overwhelming.
Photograph: The Institute in Ottery last night. Packed with people wanting to hear about the beavers.