Beavers are making a comeback after centuries of extinction in England
Eurasian beavers (Castor fiber) are large herbivore mammals once native to England. Prized for their soft, thick fur and perfume like musk, they were hunted to extinction in the 16th Century and have been missing from our rivers for hundreds of years.
Being nature architects and ecosystem engineers, the loss of this native species sadly also led to the loss of habitats they maintained.
Beavers are brilliant architects
Beavers can completely change their surrounding habitats for the better. They build dams to restrict water flow creating ponds of deep water, coppice trees and shrubs and dig canal systems creating diverse wetlands. These can bring huge benefits to a wide range of plants and wildlife.
As well as benefiting wildlife, beavers help humans by creating large areas of water-retaining wetlands which reduces flooding downstream. They also help to clean water and reduce silt levels. With all these benefits to people and wildlife, it's fantastic to see beavers returning to our rivers in this trial project.
Why Cropton Forest?
Beavers from Scotland are being released into a secure area at Cropton Forest as a follow on to the 'Slowing the Flow' project to combat flooding in the area. The communities downstream from Cropton Forest have suffered severe flooding in the last twenty years, with the most serious flood in 2007 causing approximately £7 million in damage to homes and businesses.
Man-made dams at Cropton Forest have already been helping to reduce flooding however, they are are expensive and time-consuming to look after. So beavers are being released into a secure area in Cropton Forest to maintain the existing dams and create their own. As the first project of its kind, we're very excited to see how the beavers interact with man-made structures already in place.
Cath, the leading Ecologist for the project, tells us what it means to her and the local community:
"We’ve had a fantastic positive response to the beaver trial so far. Over 40 volunteers have put in roughly 500 hours surveying the site for different species. It will be exciting to see how the site changes over the next 5 years and how the beavers interact with the man-made dam features in the beck."
Dam cute! Bouncing baby beaver born in Cropton Forest
We are delighted that the beavers in Cropton Forest have become parents, giving birth to two adorable kits. Video captured at the beaver site shows the kits already swimming and settling into their new home with their mum.
Cath Bashforth, Ecologist for the project had this to say about the new arrivals:
“We are all very happy to see the arrival of two healthy kits. With beaver being very social animals, the family unit will live together. It is fascinating to watch them explore their surroundings and they are quickly learning from their parents. I’m really looking forward to watching them grow and bond as a family."
Working with the community
Making time for nature and spending time outside has been proven to improve your mental and physical health by the mental health charity Mind, so we're delighted to see the local community getting involved in the project and they are excited to be welcoming their new neighbours.
So far, volunteers have contributed over 500 hours of work and their help has been vital for the success of the project. They have been getting involved with everything from helping to prepare the area to surveying existing wildlife and plants.
One of the many wildlife volunteers, Joan Childs, tells us what the project means to her:
"It's been a great privilege to be able to contribute in a small way to this exciting project, by helping with the Diptera survey of the release site. North Yorkshire will be richer for the dynamism that beavers bring back to wetland habitats."
Local wildlife groups
The beaver release could potentially change the surrounding habitat for the better and alter local biodiversity so local wildlife groups have been on hand to volunteer. One local wildlife group 'The Pickering Forests Ringing Group', who have been monitoring the local bird population had this to say about the project;
"Beaver habitats in North America and Europe are areas with a rich diversity of bird life. We're pleased to be part of the monitoring team conducting surveys of the current annual bird population and are looking forward to future monitoring where we hope to see an increase in species as a result of the habitat created by the beavers."
"I’m thrilled to be a volunteer in the Yorkshire beaver release trial. It will be fascinating to watch beavers in Yorkshire managing their own habitat and to witness the effect they have on local flood control and biodiversity.”