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  • Writer's pictureAlistair

Dam excited ...

Updated: May 17


A bit of exciting news from Cefn Garthenor which comes after a long and somewhat tortuous journey.  Last month I received a licence, covered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), from Natural Resources Wales to release beavers into a secure enclosure on my land.  I think that some of those involved in this application (mention no names, Derek Gow) might have used other words to describe this meandering process, but let’s stick with long and tortuous. 

Silver birch woodland will be part of the beaver enclosure

Since starting the Cefn Garthenor project in May 2021, I have been interested in the idea of getting some beavers onto the land.  Why?  They are a native species, hunted to extinction in Britain over 400 years ago, which creates habitats not only for themselves but for an unbelievable number of others and in the process actually changes our very landscape.  They are extraordinary eco-system engineers, doing more than pretty much any other mammal is capable of doing in this respect.  You’d have to dust off your copy of Little Red Riding Hood to find anything that can make a bigger difference.  And beavers manage all of this as peace loving vegetarians.

 

I’ll keep this brief, and therefore almost certainly not entirely accurate, but beavers live around water, like to build dams and in doing so coppice and fell nearby trees.  The dams change the course of water, slowing down its movement as well as helping filter and clean it.  Given the problems we have with flooding caused by the increasingly torrential rain we are getting, as well as issues of polluted run-off from farmland, they are an effective and cheap way to help prevent some of this.

 

The coppiced trees and wetlands they create also provide great habitats for a whole load of other plants and critters.  It’s a win-win.  Unless your farmland suffers from some local flooding, or they munch on some of your crops or trees.  However, these local issues have been dealt with in farming communities across Europe very successfully (see my blog post on my trip Bavaria in May 2023) and the overall benefits far outweigh the costs.

 

Our devolved nations each have a different take on beavers.  They are living in the wild in Scotland, largely on the Tay.  In England, they are in the wild on the river Otter.  Elsewhere in England and Wales they are only allowed in enclosures … essentially a beaver Colditz.  It seems to be a political hot potato although I can’t quite for the life of me think why.  Various farming lobbies are dead against them, and politicians don’t see the upside in allowing them back in a serious way.  The result is a stealth return.  After the 400-year absence in the wild in Britain, some beavers seem to have arrived, as if by magic, and were spotted on the river Otter in 2008.  That created a bit of a problem.  No one was willing to kill what is, of course, a native species, but the authorities did not want to deal with more.  But, by hook, crook and enclosure things are changing.  Beyond the limited but growing wild populations (perhaps 1,000 in Scotland and probably a good few hundred across 7 or 8 catchments elsewhere in Britain**) there are maybe 30 enclosures across England and Wales.  Cefn Garthenor will be the fifth in Wales, the second since the licencing regime came into force.

 

Anyway, just over two years ago, in March 2022, I asked Derek Gow to help me get some beavers on my land and so the application for a licence began.  I have had huge help from Derek, Roisin Campbell-Palmer (who works for The Beaver Trust) and Rob Parry (Initiative for Nature Conservation Cymru), without whom I would never have got anywhere.  And a lot of support from others, with a shout out for Alicia Leow-Dyke (North Wales Wildlife Trust).  Just to be clear, any errors in this blog are nothing to do with any of them!

Derek in the marshy grassland, another area which will be in the enclosure, with the silver birch and conifer plantation, also included, in the distance.

We put together a big application document covering all sorts of aspects, with input from vets, hydrologists and other experts, referencing the academic literature, as well as undertaking local consultations with my farming and non-farming neighbours and a full risk assessment.  The way we would create, maintain and monitor the enclosure was obviously a key component, as was a plan to capture any Houdini’s in the beaver family we end up with.  And lots more.  There was some back and forward with the team at Natural Resources Wales over the course of 18 months and eventually we got there.


Drainage ditches bring more than enough water into the area to be enclosed for the beavers


That done, next we need to build the enclosure (covering around 4 hectares or 10 acres, in effect 4 fields including woodland and flowing water).  The fencing is special, with extra thick wire, a 45 degree return at the top to prevent them climbing over, and a horizontal section on the ground to prevent them digging out.  Then we need to find some beavers.  That means naughty beavers (presumably with ASBO’s) from Scotland … essentially ones that have been annoying a landowner and need to be moved on.  We want a pair or young family.  The licence allows for 8 beavers, but we will start with either 2 or a small family (up to 5).

 

That’s it really.  No pictures of the critter itself.  I’ve never actually seen a beaver.  Despite a week looking in Bavaria, visiting all the biggest beaver sites.  Hmmm.  But what I absolutely saw was the magic they worked on the environment and the explosion in biodiversity they created.  I’ll happily take some of that and never see one!


** note: I edited the numbers upwards on 17 May 2024 thanks to feedback from those who know better than me

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Rachel No name
Rachel No name
May 14

your post has brightened up my day - thanks. I've seen the positive impact of beavers on the landscape in Devon - and been lucky enough to see the beavers too. I really hope it all goes well.

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