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Beavers could be reintroduced into English countryside for environmental benefits after 400 years

The reintroduction of beavers into the English countryside is to be discussed in a government consultation.

The Eurasian beaver was made extinct in Britain back in the 16th century, but there are hopes that its reintroduction could provide considerable environmental benefits.

A population of beavers that mysteriously appeared on the River Otter in Devon over 10 years ago has been monitored by wildlife groups ever since.

Studies of their behaviour and its impact will form an important part of the decision-making by DEFRA over whether to reintroduce beavers and potentially other formerly native species.

The dams which beavers build can raise water levels and form wetlands.

These areas, as well as creating habitats for a wide range of plants and animals, are also thought to be useful environments for storing carbon, potentially reducing the emission of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

Some landowners and anglers have concerns about the impact the beavers may have, hence the government’s 12-week consultation. Others see them as natural, and effective, ecosystem engineers.

In North Yorkshire’s Cropton Forest a 100-acre enclosure is already home to several families of beavers that have been introduced as part of an environmentally friendly flood alleviation scheme called Slowing the Flow.

This latest consultation is to determine whether beavers could be reintroduced into the wild without the need for them to be penned in.

Plans to give beavers legal protection in England are also being announced today, to support their recovery. This will make it an offence to deliberately capture, kill, disturb or injure beavers, or damage breeding sites or resting places.

Secretary of State George Eustice said: “We are committed to providing opportunities to reintroduce formerly native species, such as beavers, where the benefits for the environment, people and the economy are clear.

“Today marks a significant milestone for the reintroduction of beavers in the wild, with the launch of the government’s consultation on our national approach and management of beavers in England.

“But we also understand that there are implications for landowners, so we are taking a cautious approach to ensure that all potential impacts are carefully considered.”

Under the government’s proposals, applications for licences to release beavers into the wild would need to meet certain criteria, including demonstrating positive stakeholder engagement and local buy-in, and proof that a comprehensive assessment has been undertaken of the impacts on surrounding land, the water environment, infrastructures, habitats, and protected species.

Projects must also ensure that support for landowners and rivers users is put in place.

Responses to the consultation will be used to inform decisions on the approach to further releases of beavers into the wild in England. A summary of responses will be published in early 2022.

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