Free the Beaver: Michael Gove officially endorses legal #Beaver releases into the English Countryside

Is there any comedy value to be extracted from the fact that on the day the Brexiteers capitulated (or were outmanoeuvred) on membership of the Single Market, leading Brexist Michael Gove chose to announce that Beavers would be released in the Forest of Dean and into the wild? Read on to find out.

Sharp-eyed readers (yes that’s all of you) will recall that the Forestry Commission had been working on a project to use beavers to reduce downstream flooding of a village (Lydbrook) in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, but that this had been squashed by the unimaginative Minister Therese Coffey. Why would Coffey have taken against the aquatic rodent? Could it have anything to do with her enthusiasm for artificial drainage, as I outlined in a previous post. Could it be related to her enthusiasm for Grouse Shooting? We may never know.

Either way, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has over-ruled her (it’s difficult to imagine she will be pleased about that) and given the go-ahead for the Forestry Commission to release the beavers. When I say release the beavers, obviously they will not be released in the sense that the River Otter Beavers were released. They will be in a pen.

So far so good. What’s perhaps even more interesting is that Michael Gove has given a very strong signal today that other Beaver introduction schemes in England will be looked on favourably by the regulator Natural England. Natural England, as we know, does what Defra tells it to these days. Here’s the new guidance.

this one is for similar projects to the Forest of Dean one







And this one if for legal releases into the wild.





yes you read that correctly. Gove has just announced that the Government is approving the release of Beavers into the wild. These releases will need to be time-limited (though of course it doesn’t specify what the time limit is) and should include an exit strategy if problems arise. That would be recapturing the beavers.

This is a big step forward for rewilding and natural flood management in England.

I may still have grave doubts about Michael Gove on all sorts of other levels, but for this I applaud him.

Photo by Ray Scott  [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
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10 Responses to Free the Beaver: Michael Gove officially endorses legal #Beaver releases into the English Countryside

  1. Excellent. Thank you. (But IN A PEN??)

  2. Tim Dixon says:

    I guess like many of your readers I was encouraged by Michael Gove’s recent utterances but remained cynically sceptical about what actions might follow. Well, I’m pleasantly surprised so well done Mr G. If I were a large farmer or grouse moor owner I would be getting rather twitchy.

  3. Mark Fisher says:

    Well, Miles, it still says “Natural England will consider applications on a case-by-case basis” and so there is no change there. Despite Gove, NE is going to be conservative about any further licences until they get some reassurance that the free-living Devon beavers haven’t provoked a riot amongst land users.

    I’m confused about this FoD thing
    – it says they are to be captive, that they will be released into a 6.5 hectare secure enclosure BUT – it also says that “The FC sought SoS approval for further trial in Forest of Dean” having said that beaver “were reintroduced in Devon in 2015 for trial” and then that “FC submitted an application to Natural England on 23rd October”.

    Does this imply that FC have been granted a licence for release of beaver to free-living, just like the Devon beaver (not the captive DWT beaver)? Why say they are going be captive?

    The other interpretation is that FC was the first to apply for a licence to release beaver into a secured enclosure, this being a requirement from today using the same Form WML A03. I don’t remember it being a requirement previously? That form is useless anyway. I told NE years ago that it doesn’t cover release of former native species.

    There have of course been captive beaver all over the UK for decades, but nobody used the hyperbole/falsehood that these represented a return of beaver to the countryside, nor that they performed some function, or that they were rewilding. So whats new with the Devon WT, Cornwall WT and FoD captive beavers?

    • Miles King says:

      thanks Mark. I’ll come back to the licencing issues, but I think the announcement on free-living Beavers is significant. No-one in England had been given the opportunity to apply for a licence for these pro-actively before, and as far as I know only one licence for the Otter population has been given previously – under duress.

      • Mark Fisher says:

        I’ve had some clarification from Christopher Price, CLA, who sent me an NE document from last month that explains the changes in licencing for release of beaver into enclosures. It says this:
        “The Defra guidance on circumstances when a licence is required has not changed, but a recent appraisal of the evidence of escapes from licenced and unlicensed fenced enclosures shows there is a high risk of escapes occurring. Furthermore, there are an increasing number of projects releasing (or proposing to release) beavers with the specific aim of using beavers to alter the hydrology of water courses, thereby impacting their environmental conditions. While this may benefit some species and habitats, it may not benefit all”

        These are the circumstances:
        “In summary, a release into an enclosure is likely to require a licence if any of the following criteria apply:
        1. The beavers are likely to escape;
        2. The beavers are capable of having an adverse environmental impact, or
        3. The enclosure is so large that it includes natural and semi-natural habitats and their associated wild native flora and fauna that could be impacted”

        It has these conditions:
        “Where a licence is issued:
         it will be a conditional licence that only permits beavers to be released into a defined and securely enclosed area (i.e. limited and clearly demarked part of ‘the wild’), not the wider countryside, and
         the licence will include conditions aimed at ensuring: the installation and maintenance of appropriate fencing; the monitoring and tagging of beavers; effective provisions to deal with escapes and to manage beaver numbers within the enclosure, and a clear plan for the beavers at the end of the project.”

        It says that so far, only one project involving the release of beavers into an enclosure has been licensed (at Ham Fen in Kent). This was licensed because the enclosure encompassed a Site of Special Scientific Interest and the beavers were being used to ‘engineer’ the site. Since that document came out last month, it could imply that FC at FoD was the second licence for release into an enclosure to be issued under this new regime?

        I take your point about it appearing to be an encouragement for others to apply for a licence for a trial release to free living, but I expect it is more likely that there will be a “flood” of applications for release into enclosures to exploit the beavers as hydraulic engineers.

      • Miles King says:

        thanks Mark. There is some inconsistency in the guidance Defra published yesterday. They explain that releasing Beavers into the countryside (presumably outside enclosures) is legal, and I think is new. However the licence form is for release into enclosures – which, as you say, is now required. Perhaps they are working on a new form to cover releases into the wild (outside enclosures.)

  4. What splendid news! Whatever next?

    • Steve Jones says:

      Lynx next, with any luck.
      I’d say that lynx is actually an easier species to handle than beavers, being only a minimal or probably non-risk to sheep, and otherwise all-out positive (helping to deal with deer over-abundance which is an ecological (and economic) pain in the arse). Beavers pose risks that can easily be mitigated but that are genuine. I think the only reason for not going ahead with a lynx trial is the strength of one interest group – sheep farmers. Hopefully the sheep insurance scheme will address deeply-held concerns.

  5. Pingback: Five Years…. | a new nature blog

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