Largely seen gnawing wood and building dams in cultural fable, beavers have been missing so long we forgot we even had them in the UK in the first place. But they’re back – and they’re in Sussex
They were hunted to extinction in the 16th century for their meat, pelts and scent glands. The beaver pelt was highly coveted for the quality of its fur. Our natural ecosystem engineer friends have been missing from the country for over 400 years. But they’re back!
And thanks to the Sussex Beaver Trial, a partnership led by Sussex Wildlife Trust and the re-wilding project at the Knepp Estate near Horsham, the re-introduction of two pairs of beavers will be taking place in none other than our very own Sussex county.
We have a feeling that they’ll be just as cute as a Mr and Mrs Beaver foursome from suburbian Narnia, though hopefully there won’t be a battle for power happening under our noses!
In either late spring or early autumn of this year, the beavers are going to be released. This is under a Natural England license, in a large enclosed area for a five-year period. They’ll be monitored, to see how they adapt to their new environment. This is part of a national project, with specialist ecologists advising.
Hopefully there will be more beavers to come. If it sounds a bit like the Garden of Eden, beaver-style, you’re not far off the mark.
The beavers will have over 250 hectares of land in Knepp Estate’s southern block, and their new homes will include extensive swathes of willow where they can roam and do what they do best – natural flood management. Well, that, and creating more beavers, obvs.
Beavers are incredible hydrological engineers, infamous for their ability to build dams and lodges, channels and deep pools. This will be particularly beneficial for the Adur catchment, where the beavers will provide natural flood management and maintain a base flow of water in drought conditions.
The hope is that they’ll get stuck in, make more beavers, and create a whole natural flood management eco-system.
Fran Southgate, Sussex Wildlife Trust, says that 80% of the UK’s natural wetlands have been damaged in the past. But the numbers are probably closer to 95% in Sussex. And it’s all about creating a natural way to manage the landscape.
These beaver re-introductions will use the natural instincts of a native animal as a tool for restoring important wetlands
“These beaver re-introductions will use the natural instincts of a native animal as a tool for restoring important wetlands. Beavers are a great example of how keystone wildlife species. That’s a species without which whole ecosystems collapse.
“And they help to reverse other declines in wildlife. They also help to reduce pollution and siltation, increase natural fish stocks and more.”
As Isabella Tree, co-owner of the Knepp Estate, said, “This is a dream come true for us. We know beavers are one of the biggest influences missing from our landscape. Not only are they masters of water management, they’re hugely beneficial to biodiversity.
“Insects, birds, aquatic plants, fish will all gain from the intricate habitats they create. I am longing for the day when I hear a beaver tail slapping on Hammer Pond.”
WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT BEAVERS? BEAVER FACTS…
- Beavers are social animals. They’ve been known to share their lodges with other animals, like rats
- They’re family oriented. They live in large groups of monogamous parents, young kits, and the yearlings from the previous spring
- Beavers have swimming goggles! They have a set of transparent eyelids which enables them to see underwater
- Beavers are rodents – one of the largest rodent groups on the planet
- Their teeth never stop growing. The constant gnawing on wood is what grinds their teeth down and stops them from getting out of control!
Guess who’s back – back again?! Yes it’s BEAVERS! Useful history of native beavers in the UK from the RSPB here.
REWILDING IN SUSSEX
We’ve been supporters of the work Knepp has been carrying out for years, but they’ve really stepped up to the plate here with the wildlife support activities.
Re-wilding is one of the big buzzes this year – not just for beavers, but all sorts of flora and fauna. If you’re interested in following the beaver journey, there’s a Twitter account – Rewilding Sussex – that you could follow.