Cumbria Beaver Group

Cumbria Beaver Group

© David Parkyn/ Cornwall Wildlife Trust

The Cumbria Beaver Group is made up of Cumbria Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Lowther Estates and Eden Rivers Trust and is working in consultation with Natural England, the Environment Agency, United Utilities, Forestry England, the University of Cumbria and others. 

The aim of the group is to facilitate the well planned and managed reintroduction of beavers to Cumbria through the delivery and support of enclosed scientific beaver release trials, as well as community engagement and advocacy. 

  • Beavers are native to Britain but were wiped out in the 16th century, mainly due to hunting.
  • Beavers are completely vegetarian and do NOT eat fish.
  • Beavers can provide a range of environmental and socio-economic benefits. These include flood risk alleviation, improved water quality, habitat creation for other wildlife and increase revenue for the local economy through nature-based tourism. 
  • The proposed release schemes in Cumbria are enclosed scientific trials and will only take place if a license is granted and funding can be obtained. They are not for free roaming beavers so they will be unable to move into the wider surrounding countryside.
  • In the long term, the Cumbria Beaver Group would like to see beavers return to Cumbria. However, it is vital that any reintroduction is well planned, well managed and has the support of the local community.
Beaver

© David Parkyn/Cornwall Wildlife Trust

Do beavers cause a lot of environmental damage?

Beavers do modify the habitats and landscapes they live in through coppicing, feeding and in some cases damming (beavers living on lakes or large rivers have little need of constructing dams). In the first instance, these changes can markedly alter the appearance of the local environment but all of these modifications have a positive effect on biodiversity. 

Beaver adaptations can bring enormous benefits to other species, including otters, water shrews, water voles, birds, invertebrates especially dragonflies, and breeding fish. In effect, beavers naturally create and maintain diverse habitats. Their dams can hold water in periods of drought, can regulate flooding and improve water quality by holding silt behind dams and catching acidic and agricultural run-off.

Beavers forage close to water with activity usually concentrated within 20m of the water’s edge. Beavers do fell broad-leafed trees and bushes in order to eat the bark during the winter and to construct their lodges. Most trees will be coppiced and will regenerate, which diversifies the surrounding habitat structure. Coppicing has been practiced by foresters throughout history as a method to manage bankside trees. The actions of beavers are very similar meaning the woodlands will be naturally maintained.

Beavers are a species that occasionally require the need for direct management intervention by man, if their activities result in undesirable localised flooding or tree felling. Any occasional localised problems are usually overcome by simple actions, such as overflow piping and electric fencing. Beavers rarely eat conifers, although the odd conifer might be gnawed by an immature animal that has not learned that conifers are unpalatable and that its resin gums up their teeth. They generally do not live in water entirely surrounded by conifers.

Impacts from burrowing, ie collapsed banks, are a factor on the Tay and have been cited by some anglers.

Do beavers cause damage to farmland and the wider countryside?

Evidence from Europe shows that shows that beaver damage is, in the vast majority of cases, small-scale and localised. Beavers are not regarded as pests in Europe and where localised problems have occurred, there are a number of well-established methods in place. These include the removal of dams, the introduction of overflow piping, or the installation of fencing (as one does for deer and rabbits).

Do beavers pose a flooding threat?

In general terms, beavers can actually help reduce the risk of flooding lower down in river systems by building dams and moderating water flow. The modifications made to the streams can raise the water table locally, creating wetland areas to the benefit of biodiversity. Evidence from elsewhere in Europe shows that instances of beaver dams creating undesirable flooding are uncommon, localised and usually small-scale. In these situations dams are simply removed or pipes (‘beaver deceivers’) are placed through them to manage water levels.

Do beavers eat fish?

No. Beavers are completely vegetarian. Beavers eat woody plants and bark, aquatic plants, grasses and shrubs.

Do beavers affect fish species?

Beaver activities may have both positive and negative impacts on different fish species. Understanding the overall impact is complex. Beaver dams may act as barriers to migratory species such as salmon in some years and conditions, and cause localised siltation upstream of dams affecting spawning habitat. On the other hand, positive impacts may include an increase in habitat for fish rearing and overwintering, an increase in refuge areas during high and low flow periods and an increase in aquatic invertebrate prey species. Read more about the potential impact on fish by the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

What impact do the beavers have on water quality and hydrology?

Research suggests that ponds and water pools created from beaver dams can have marked benefits on local water quality. Dams are usually only built on small streams, less than 3 metres wide, and these can moderate the detrimental effect of irregular flow. The modifications can also raise the water table locally creating wetland areas to the benefit of biodiversity.

The ponds can help to neutralise acidic run-off, act as sinks for pollutants and increase the self-purification of a watercourse. They can form considerable sediment traps, reducing very strongly erosive runoff and particulate loads in downstream water.

What evidence is there that beavers ever lived in Cumbria?

According to A Vertebrate Fauna of Lakeland by Macpherson Rev. H. A., 1892, there’s evidence of beaver remains found in the Rossendale Valley.(book says Ressondale but assuming it refers to Rossendale). This is indicative of a more widespread distribution.

Do beavers carry disease?

Beavers can carry host-specific parasites not currently present in Britain, though these are not known to infect or harm other species of wildlife,  livestock or humans. Other parasites carried by beaver are already present in British wildlife, livestock and humans and these other sources of infection pose a more significant risk to water contamination than beavers.

Where will the trials take place?

There are plans to trial enclosed beaver releases in the Eden Valley and in South Cumbria. Feasibility studies will be undertaken at other potential sites across the county.

Do you want to see free-living beavers in Cumbria?

In the long term, the Cumbria Beaver Partnership would like to see beavers return to Cumbria. However, it is vital that any reintroduction is well planned, well managed and has the support of the local community.

There are already a number of enclosed trails taking/ have taken place in the UK. What extra learning can you achieve from yet another beaver trial?

If they go ahead these trials will look specifically at how beavers fare in an upland environment and examine how they interact with peatland soil. 

 

If you want to see beavers in the long term, isn’t the scientific trial is just paying lip service?

Any enclosed trials in Cumbria will contribute to the English Government’s understanding of beavers and would play a role in its decision making around granting licences for free-living beaver releases in the future.

What is the current status of beavers in Great Britain?

Beaver reintroduction in Great Britain is a devolved matter. As such, the status of beavers in Scotland, England and Wales is devolved to each respective government and reintroduction is at differing stages across these nations.

There currently is no known evidence of beavers ever having been present in Northern Ireland (or the Republic of Ireland). As such, no beaver introduction projects are due to take place there.

ENGLAND: The River Otter Beaver Trial is a licenced five year reintroduction trial taking place in Devon. This is due to conclude in 2020 and, following this, the UK government is due to make a decision upon the future of beavers in England. There are also a number of fenced projects across the country, including in Cornwall, Yorkshire and Essex amongst others. At present, a licence is required for a beaver project.  

SCOTLAND: As of May 2019, the Eurasian beaver is now protected in Scotland as a European Protected Species and the beavers currently present in Scotland will be allowed to expand their range naturally. The Scottish government have developed a Management Framework, details of which are available here.

WALES: Currently beavers are not recognised as resident in Wales and there are no officially recognised beaver reintroduction trials. There are attempts being made to establish a trial, most notably by the Welsh Beaver Project