As some of you may know a Beaver family has been spotted on the River Otter in East Devon. A lone Beaver was seen last Summer, and this year, it appears that there is a family. How did that happen? Nobody knows.
Should we welcome the reappearance, after a few centuries of this native mammal, this ecosystem engineer? I would say yes, this is fantastic news. Beavers didn’t become extinct in England because their habitat disappeared, they were hunted to extinction, like that other welcome returner, the Red Kite.
Why would Beavers on the Otter be a problem? Do they eat fish, competing with the local anglers? No, Beavers are vegetarian.
Is the landowner, Mr David Lawrence, concerned about the Beavers? No he welcomes them.
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.”
But wait: The Angling Trust says its members need more beavers “like we need a hole in the head” and maintains that its members have the “right” to shoot them as an invasive species. Mark Lloyd, the body’s chief executive, said: “The release of these beavers has not been formally sanctioned and they should be removed.”
The Angling Trust has been err Angling to have Beavers exterminated for the past two years. I think their argument is that beaver dams stop fish from reaching their spawning grounds, which begs the question, how did the fish manage for the previous 200,000 years of Eurasian Beaver existence, or indeed their evolutionary precursors.
I find it hilarious that Anglers, of all people, using the “unapproved introductions are wrong” argument against an extinct native species, when they have been responsible for repeated and continuing introductions of native and non-native species of fish to the UK’s waterways and waterbodies. Where did the Zanders, the Mirror Carp, the Wels and all the other exotic fish, with their exotic diseases come from?
My knowledge of the angling fraternity (via my late Angler brother Simon and his expert friends) suggests the Angling Trust do not speak on behalf of the Angling community. I suspect most Anglers would be delighted to know that Beavers had returned to the British countryside, and would even be thrilled to see one; certainly, compared to that other watery returner and ravenous fish-killer, the Otter.
Defra take another angle – “Beavers have not been an established part of our wildlife for the last 500 years. Our landscape and habitats have changed since then and we need to assess the impact they could have.”
Sorry? Defra are suggesting that a once ubiquitous native mammal, which was hunted to extinction, might not fit into our modern landscape and habitats. Surely that’s a problem with our perception of landscape, not an argument for removing a native mammal. As for habitats, look at the equivalent habitats in Europe with beavers and compare them with the UK habitats without, then tell me we will be better off without them, making their pesky dams, chopping down trees that might belong to someone, holding water back to reduce peak flood flows.
The point is that Beavers create habitats and public environmental goods that we have missed for the last 500 years; habitats that support a whole range of other species. Is it better to create a pond with a Hy-mac, or have a beaver create one?
One argument used against the re-introduction of Beavers is that they carry a parasitic tapeworm Echinococcus Multilocularis (EM) which might spread to other wildlife, or even humans. The tapeworm is carried by a wide range of other wildlife and is widespread across the Northern Hemisphere. Beavers introduced in formal programmes for example on the Tay have been screened for it but it can be very difficult to find. Beaver experts believe it is highly unlikely that the animals introduced in Devon are carriers. As the Indy article stated,
Roison Campbell-Palmer, who is part of a Royal Zoological Society of Scotland team running a five-year long trial to reintroduce beavers to the Scottish Highlands, added that there was only “a very small chance” that the animals Devon had been imported from high-risk EM areas, while other environmentalists point to a 2012 Defra report which found the risk of transmission of the parasite to UK wildlife was “very low”.
Asked by the Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment Maria Eagle, what plans Defra have for controlling the Beavers of the Otter, Defra Minister George Eustice said last week that
“We intend to recapture and rehome the wild beavers in Devon and are currently working out plans for the best way to do so. All decisions will be made with the welfare of the beavers in mind. There are no plans to cull beavers.”
If you’re wondering why Labour asked a question of the Government about controlling the Otter Beavers, as opposed to what their view of an unsanctioned introduction was, then look no further than the Angling Trust’s blog, by former Labour MP and Angling Trust Campaign Chief Martin Salter. Angling is Britain’s most popular past-time and no doubt a rather larger proportion of anglers will vote Labour than Tory.
And so, once again, following my previous blog about the power of the Kennel Club, we see recreational interests with political clout take precedence over nature, the wishes of the public and landowners.
Photo – many thanks to Peter Cooper for spotting the wrong photo and providing the right one!