As some of you may know a Beaver family has been spotted on the River Otter in East Devon. A lone Beaver was seen last Summer, and this year, it appears that there is a family. How did that happen? Nobody knows.
Should we welcome the reappearance, after a few centuries of this native mammal, this ecosystem engineer? I would say yes, this is fantastic news. Beavers didn’t become extinct in England because their habitat disappeared, they were hunted to extinction, like that other welcome returner, the Red Kite.
Why would Beavers on the Otter be a problem? Do they eat fish, competing with the local anglers? No, Beavers are vegetarian.
Is the landowner, Mr David Lawrence, concerned about the Beavers? No he welcomes them.
Mr Lawrence seemed relaxed about the idea of having wild beavers breeding on his land: “We might have to go in one day and clear some of the felled trees so they won’t be a nuisance downstream in Tipton if it floods. But it’s all very interesting – my wife has just started a holiday business with a safari tent and this will give people something extra to look at.”
But wait: The Angling Trust says its members need more beavers “like we need a hole in the head” and maintains that its members have the “right” to shoot them as an invasive species. Mark Lloyd, the body’s chief executive, said: “The release of these beavers has not been formally sanctioned and they should be removed.”
The Angling Trust has been err Angling to have Beavers exterminated for the past two years. I think their argument is that beaver dams stop fish from reaching their spawning grounds, which begs the question, how did the fish manage for the previous 200,000 years of Eurasian Beaver existence, or indeed their evolutionary precursors.
I find it hilarious that Anglers, of all people, using the “unapproved introductions are wrong” argument against an extinct native species, when they have been responsible for repeated and continuing introductions of native and non-native species of fish to the UK’s waterways and waterbodies. Where did the Zanders, the Mirror Carp, the Wels and all the other exotic fish, with their exotic diseases come from?
My knowledge of the angling fraternity (via my late Angler brother Simon and his expert friends) suggests the Angling Trust do not speak on behalf of the Angling community. I suspect most Anglers would be delighted to know that Beavers had returned to the British countryside, and would even be thrilled to see one; certainly, compared to that other watery returner and ravenous fish-killer, the Otter.
Defra take another angle – “Beavers have not been an established part of our wildlife for the last 500 years. Our landscape and habitats have changed since then and we need to assess the impact they could have.”
Sorry? Defra are suggesting that a once ubiquitous native mammal, which was hunted to extinction, might not fit into our modern landscape and habitats. Surely that’s a problem with our perception of landscape, not an argument for removing a native mammal. As for habitats, look at the equivalent habitats in Europe with beavers and compare them with the UK habitats without, then tell me we will be better off without them, making their pesky dams, chopping down trees that might belong to someone, holding water back to reduce peak flood flows.
The point is that Beavers create habitats and public environmental goods that we have missed for the last 500 years; habitats that support a whole range of other species. Is it better to create a pond with a Hy-mac, or have a beaver create one?
One argument used against the re-introduction of Beavers is that they carry a parasitic tapeworm Echinococcus Multilocularis (EM) which might spread to other wildlife, or even humans. The tapeworm is carried by a wide range of other wildlife and is widespread across the Northern Hemisphere. Beavers introduced in formal programmes for example on the Tay have been screened for it but it can be very difficult to find. Beaver experts believe it is highly unlikely that the animals introduced in Devon are carriers. As the Indy article stated,
Roison Campbell-Palmer, who is part of a Royal Zoological Society of Scotland team running a five-year long trial to reintroduce beavers to the Scottish Highlands, added that there was only “a very small chance” that the animals Devon had been imported from high-risk EM areas, while other environmentalists point to a 2012 Defra report which found the risk of transmission of the parasite to UK wildlife was “very low”.
Asked by the Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment Maria Eagle, what plans Defra have for controlling the Beavers of the Otter, Defra Minister George Eustice said last week that
“We intend to recapture and rehome the wild beavers in Devon and are currently working out plans for the best way to do so. All decisions will be made with the welfare of the beavers in mind. There are no plans to cull beavers.”
If you’re wondering why Labour asked a question of the Government about controlling the Otter Beavers, as opposed to what their view of an unsanctioned introduction was, then look no further than the Angling Trust’s blog, by former Labour MP and Angling Trust Campaign Chief Martin Salter. Angling is Britain’s most popular past-time and no doubt a rather larger proportion of anglers will vote Labour than Tory.
And so, once again, following my previous blog about the power of the Kennel Club, we see recreational interests with political clout take precedence over nature, the wishes of the public and landowners.
Photo – many thanks to Peter Cooper for spotting the wrong photo and providing the right one!
Martin Salter and Mark Lloyd are intelligent men. This hysteria over a vegetarian mammal does them no service. This could undo most of Angling Trust’s reputation and good work so far. I can’t believe they’ve officially sanctioned the ‘shoot them all’ statement; clarity on that would be welcome. I understand the venom gainst otters and corporates, but to atack beavers is plain stupid. There should be huge justification for killing any wild animal; for beavers there is none. Beware – the anti fishing brigade will wake up to this soon. It is absolutely bonkers.
Mark Lloyd Angling Trust CEO has called for Beavers to be “eradicated from the wild”. The AT wrote to previous hunting shooting and fishing minister Richard Benyon calling for Defra to allow culling, in the mistaken belief that Beavers were European Protected Species (they aren’t).
From you chats with anglers, Miles, who would you say are Angling Trust representing?
I shall try and remember the phrase my late brother used. Something like “self-serving self-appointed committee joiners.” And that is the cleaned up version.
I’m sure that’s not what A.T. are, but a clear statement of their current position on this would be welcome, especially that they know beavers are herbivore. I have yet to see one good reason to ask Deffra to get rid of them. And am getting the idea that anglers can often be selfish reactionary twits. I have been an angler for 50years. I have enjoyed the natural world as much as the fishing; l am not alone in that – ask any decent angler. Matt Hayes Jhn Wilson Mick Brown Keith Arthur, and Martin Salter himself- a fanatical angler; surely he knows the natural surroundings are what makes fishing worthwhile. This whole thing is hard to bear. Jack Hargreaves will be turning in his grave. So come on Angling Trust, who do you think you are you representing with this crazy idea?
“mistaken belief that Beavers were European Protected Species (they aren’t)”
Well, a major sticking point for the first application for release in Scotland in 2005 was the “exit strategy” proposed by SNH, of the potential killing of any beavers “causing more damage than might initially have been considered”, or found outside of the trial site. It was stated that beaver introduced to Scotland would be protected under European law, which thus raised doubts about the legality and practicality of the exit strategy. The Executive’s decision letter on the application set out in greater detail the reasons for rejecting the application, and confirmed their conclusion on the implications of the Habitats Directive:
“Consideration of Article 12 of the Habitats Directive
The release of the European beaver in Scotland would grant the species full legal protection under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Habitats Directive”
It is not clear what changed between 2005 and the second application in 2009, other than expediency. The legal position under the Habitats Directive would still seem to suggest that they are strictly protected, since the ownership of the original beaver can no longer be traced, such that they are detached from that original ownership (res nullius) and the resulting progeny are free-living and wild.
Thanks Mark (and sorry for the long delay in replying to your emails).
If this is the case, then does that mean that the progeny of the Otter Valley beavers will be subject to European Protected Species legislation? In which case, presumably Defra would have to issue a licence to remove them (though not the adults) from the wild; and that licence application could be subject to challenge.
When you get around to it (the emails!).
In his written reply on 26 June to a question about what discussions his Department had with Natural England on the control of the population of wild beavers in Devon, George Eustice responded that DEFRA, Natural England and the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency had discussed the need to recapture and rehome the population of wild beavers in Devon and also the process for doing so. Notice he used the word “wild”!
It is a condition of the Habitats Directive that our laws are updated to reflect the requirements of Annex IV when the circumstances demand it. This interesting, because according to a feasibility study commissioned by Natural England in 2009 on reintroducing the European beaver to England, the circumstances that require an updating of our laws could now be considered to exist. The study concluded that if beavers are deliberately released into the wild – or escape and are not pursued – then they become wild animals and are no longer owned by anyone (res nullius). This puts us under an obligation to protect the species by adding the beaver to Schedule 2 of the Habitats Regulations, and transposing the requirements of Article 12 of the Habitats Directive into national legislation. Article 12 prohibits all forms of deliberate capture or killing of specimens of these species in the wild; or deliberate disturbance of these species, particularly during the period of breeding, rearing, hibernation and migration; and deterioration or destruction of breeding sites or resting places. One more important conclusion was that if there was a self-sustaining population in the wild in Britain, then subsequent releases do not require a licence.
So why is Natural England not now advising Eustice of the findings of this study, and arguing against the capture? During the failed attempt to trap the free-liver beavers on the River Tay, Liam McArthur, MSP for the Orkney Islands, tabled a Written Question to the Scottish Executive, asking “whether the (a) Tayside and (b) Knapdale beavers are legally termed as (i) res nullius or (ii) private property”. The answer from Scottish Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham was indicative of the unsafe ground on which the trapping was predicated “This would be a matter for the courts to determine”
I await with baited breath the legal advice that Eustice can furnish, and which allows him to ride roughshod on the legal protections that we have signed up to under the Habitats Directive. Article 16 in the Habitats Directive does provide a “get out” if it is not detrimental to the maintenance of the populations of the species concerned at a favourable conservation status in their natural range. Thus exceptions can be made when in the interest of protecting wild fauna and flora and conserving natural habitats; to prevent serious damage, in particular to crops, livestock, forests, fisheries and water and other types of property; in the interests of public health and public safety, or for other imperative reasons of overriding public interest, including those of a social or economic nature and beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment. I do not think it likely that the UK, at the outset of reinstating beaver to its natural range, could ever hope to justify derogation under Article 16 of the Habitats Directive to avoid strict protection.
Very interesting article. It always makes me giggle when comments are made by people who are hypocritical and narrow-minded – I like your point on how did fish spawn for the last 200,000 years… I wonder what their answer might be to that?
So far, no response from the AT.
Your excellent article quoted in “Let England’s wild beavers be!” on The Ecologist – http://bit.ly/1mR2ey6
thanks for letting me know Oliver.
All I did was open my regular email from “they work for you” and noticed a couple of written questions to Eustice on beavers. That set the hare running, so to speak.
I’m hoping Zac Goldsmith will take it up with George Eustice.
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Good article – let’s hope that sense prevails, and that the beavers are left there unmolested.
thanks very much.
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