Footage shows beavers larking around a National Trust estate in Exmoor

Adorable footage shows beavers larking around a National Trust estate in Exmoor after being reintroduced to help with flood management and improve biodiversity in the area

  • Two pairs of beavers have been introduced to enclosure on the Holnicote Estate
  • It is hoped that the semi-aquatic rodents will restore the rivers to a natural state
  • The beavers are settling in well and are seen eating and grooming in the clips

Adorable footage shows beavers larking around a National Trust estate in Exmoor after being reintroduced to help with flood management and improve biodiversity.

Two pairs of beavers were put into two enclosures on the Holnicote Estate in Exmoor, Somerset, as part of the so-called ‘Riverlands’ project.

This programme aims to restore the river catchment to a more natural, wetland state that will slow the water flow and create habitats for other wildlife.

The webcam footage shows the beavers feeding and grooming as they settle into their new surroundings.

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BEAVERS HELP TO ENHANCE BIODIVERSITY 

Water from the dams beavers build flood large areas, creating shallow ponds that harbour lots of invertebrates, like insects and crustaceans.

The trees they fell create open spaces in the forest where young saplings can grow. 

When beavers leave a pond and their dams break, the previously flooded area is rich in nutrients and can become a meadow. 

Beavers went extinct in mainland Britain in the 16th century due to hunting, but are now present in a handful of sites across the country — including a small wild population living on the River Otter in Devon.

The beavers released in Somerset were relocated from wild populations living on the River Tay catchment, in Scotland.

Riverlands project manager Ben Eardley said that the venture is ‘exciting’, with the beavers engaging both the public and staff.

Both of the two sites are around three hectares (seven acres) in size, with one having old mill ponds which provide the deeper water that beavers prefer.

The animals are expected to develop the pond network in the future.

The other site is located on a fast-flowing river, where logs were installed to partially dam the watercourse for the beavers.

Here, the semi-aquatic rodents have already started to create deeper and more extensive ponds.

‘There are lots of signs of feeding at the fast-flowing site — they’ve created a larder of food and dragged across lots of woody vegetation into the ponds,’ Mr Eardley said.

There are also indications that the beavers at the other site are feeding and storing up food in the deeper water.

The beavers are getting quite habitual, coming out at certain times — and the rangers have caught them all on camera and know they are doing well, Mr Eardley added.

 Beavers were once native in Britain, but were hunted to extinction in the 16th century. They have made a return to the wild in some parts of the country, however, including in Scotland and a small number on the River Otter in Devon. Pictured, a beaver on a dam

 Beavers are found throughout the UK. The animals live as far north as Bamff, Scotland and as south as Nankilly Water in Cornwall

As part of the project, the Trust wants to create a viewing area at one of the sites so that people can see the change that the beavers make as they turn the area into a wetland landscape.

Drone flyovers will capture the changes to vegetation in the landscape and University of Exeter experts will monitor the beavers’ impact, which will change both the flow of water through the site and its quality.

The National Trust said that the Riverlands project will also see work undertaken to restore rivers and streams to a so-called ‘stage zero’ state where they flow through multiple channels, pools and shallow streams as they would have done naturally.

It is hoped that both the restoration scheme and the beavers’ work will slow the flow of water, reducing the risk of flooding further down the catchment and tackling drought by holding more water in the landscape — as well as boosting wildlife.

BEAVERS: ‘FRIENDS’ OR ‘FOES’?

There is some contention as to whether Beavers should indeed be released into the wild. The points on either side of the argument include the following:

 FOR REINTRODUCTION

The UK’s wetland fauna and flora evolved alongside beavers.

They reduce siltation, which can pollute waterways with silt and clay.

Their dam-like habitats help to reduce downstream flooding after heavy rain.

Beavers make ponds, which are needed by two-thirds of UK wildlife.

The public is in favour of restoring the animals to the wild. 

 AGAINST REINTRODUCTION

UK rivers have changed dramatically since beavers went extinct.

British waterways are in poor health, potentially putting beavers at risk.

Beavers can spread a foreign tapeworm to both humans and dogs.

They can damage both infrastructure and local forests.

Dams can sometimes exacerbate, rather than prevent, flooding. 

The beavers released in Somerset were relocated from wild populations living on the River Tay catchment, in Scotland (stock image)

‘The beavers are part of an approach we are taking through the river catchment.’ said Mr Eardley.

‘When you give water more space, you’re essentially slowing the flow through the catchment,’ he added.

‘The whole purpose is to work with natural processes to develop benefits for people and nature.’

‘Beavers are part of that — they’re a tool to create a greater richness of wildlife, more diversity, more complexity and help improve the natural function of the river catchment.’

HOW AND WHY DO BEAVERS BUILD DAMS?

Beavers are found across the northern hemisphere and are among planet’s most skilled builders.

This reputation has earnt them the nickname ‘nature’s engineers’.

They fell trees by gnawing at their trunks and use the resulting sticks to construct dams to stop the movement of water in ponds, lakes, rivers and streams – creating a bodies of water with a low current.

The mammals then use sticks and mud to create a second structure – a large dome-shaped island that can reach as high as ten feet (3m) tall and up to 1,600ft (500m) long.

Each island includes two underwater entrances and a living chamber above water where the animals sleep and shelter.

Beavers often line the walls of this chamber with dry leaves and plants to insulate it during winter. 

It remains unclear exactly why beavers build dams, but scientists speculate the creatures use it for warmth and shelter in the winter and as protection from predators.

Beavers are strong swimmers, and creating a reservoir of water allows the animals to play to their strengths to escape those higher in the food chain.

The biggest beaver dam ever discovered measured 2,790ft (850m) – more than twice the length of the Hoover dam.

The woodland construction, found in the southern edge of Wood Buffalo National Park in Northern Alberta, Canada, was so expansive it could be seen from space.

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