Record number of beaver releases planned for 2021

The animals, native to mainland Britain, were hunted to extinction in the 16th century
The animals, native to mainland Britain, were hunted to extinction in the 16th century

A record number of beavers will be released across the UK this year despite concern from farmers over the animal's impact on agriculture.

Around 20 beavers will be released in 2021, according to the Wildlife Trusts, with the first releases taking place in Dorset earlier this week.

Plans by the environmental charity in Derbyshire, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Nottinghamshire and Montgomeryshire will see beavers moving into these areas for the first time.

The Wildlife Trusts have been at the forefront of beaver reintroduction ever since Kent Wildlife Trust released the first pair into a fenced area of fenland in 2001, followed by the Scottish Beaver Trial in 2009.

The animals, native to mainland Britain, were hunted to extinction in the 16th century by people who wanted their fur, meat and and scent glands.

But farming industry groups have repeatedly highlighted concerns over beaver reintroduction plans, as the consequences on agriculture could be severe.

Beavers in the wild could have potentially serious implications on farmland such as land drains being blocked in lowland arable areas, the NFU has said.

The union has contributed to the English Beaver Strategy Working Group and called for an English Beaver Strategy, a long-term plan for restoring beaver populations.

NFU environment forum chairman, Phil Jarvis said any species introduction could have a 'massive impact on the countryside and farming'.

"Beaver activity can undermine riverbanks and impede farmland drainage, making fields too waterlogged for cropping or grazing.

"This seriously hinders farmers’ ability to produce food for the nation," Mr Jarvis said.

Recent releases by the Wildlife Trusts include in Cheshire, where a pair of beavers were reintroduced in November 2020 at Hatch Mere Lake.

Also in 2020, Cumbria Wildlife Trust was involved in the reintroduction of two beavers to an enclosure at the Lowther Estate in the Lake District.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said that the planned releases this year would 'inject new life into wild places'.

"The benefits for people are clear – beavers help stop flooding downstream, filter out impurities and they create new homes for otters, water voles and kingfishers.

"What’s more, people love seeing them and their presence boosts tourism in the countryside."

Around 20 beavers will be released this year including to a project in Wales. The first of the year’s releases took place in Dorset this week.