Beavers living wild in Bristol and Bath area for first time in 400 years

Beavers are expanding their range naturally with three babies born this year

Beavers have been found living wild in the Avon catchment in the Bristol and Bath area, as the long-vanished mammal continues its comeback to England.

Avon Wildlife Trust said monitoring had revealed three generations of beavers in the catchment, including three babies, or kits, born this year.

It marks the return of the species to the area after 400 years and showed they were expanding their range naturally, the wildlife charity said.

Beavers are natural engineers that restore wetland habitats through building dams and felling trees, slowing, storing and filtering water in the landscape, which attracts other wildlife and reduces flooding downstream.

The species was hunted to extinction in Britain in the 16th century for fur, glands and meat.

But beavers are returning to England and are living wild on the River Otter in Devon, the site of a successful official trial reintroduction, and on other rivers due to illegal releases or escapes.

They have also been introduced into enclosures in some English counties to help manage flooding and create a habitat for other wildlife.

Government plans are set to give them legal protection in England, and ministers are consulting on applications to release them into the wild under certain criteria.

“A new sighting of wild beavers is extremely significant," said Amy Coulthard, director of nature recovery at Avon Wildlife Trust.

“Beavers are a keystone species and they have an extraordinary ability to change habitats to suit their needs while creating ecosystems for other species to thrive.

“The presence of this beaver population will support other wildlife and help us to tackle the ecological emergency.”

Ms Coulthard said the origins of the beavers were a mystery, with possibilities including a release that occurred in the early 2000s on the Somerset-Avon border, or even the well-known wild population in Devon.

“We started receiving sightings two years ago, and our subsequent monitoring told us there are three generations of beavers living on the riverbank," she said.

“This suggests they have been happily coexisting alongside humans for some years.”

Avon Wildlife Trust has launched a "30 by 30" appeal to raise £30,000 ($40,605) to help ensure at least 30 per cent of land and sea is protected for wildlife.

It said money raised would go towards nature recovery projects such as the Avon beavers and the newly appointed beaver management group of various organisations.

The group will monitor the creatures and work with landowners in the catchment to manage the effects of the animals and maximise the benefits they can bring.

Ms Coulthard said the plan was to come up with a comprehensive management strategy for the animals, and that adjustments made to help them, such as creating space around water courses, could help other wildlife, improve water quality and reduce flooding.

She called on government support for landowners to help them and compensate them for any changes that needed to be made.

Updated: September 28th 2021, 11:01 PM