We stop at the edge of the pond to examine a tree which has been gnawed almost all the way through but is still standing. A pile of woodchips surround it, and the trunk is covered in large teeth marks. A network of ponds and canals runs across the enclosure, water trickling over the sides of dams from one level to the next.
This is all the work of two beavers currently being studied by Devon Wildlife Trust to find out more about them and what impact they have on their environment. It is an exciting project that the North Devon rangers and volunteers went to visit a couple of weeks ago.
Eurasian beavers (Castor fiber) are large semi-aquatic plant-eating rodents which were driven to extinction in Britain sometime in the 16th century. They were hunted for their extremely dense, warm fur and for castoreum, a substance produced in their scent glands which was used for making perfume and medicines.
Small isolated populations survived in parts of continental Europe which have since been reintroduced to much of the species’ former range including France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. In Britain, there have already been a few trials including the Scottish Beaver Trial in Knapdale, as well as some ‘escaped’ populations, such as the ones living on the River Otter.
It is hoped that as well as restoring a missing native species they could also be used as a conservation tool. Research from the Devon Beaver Project has already shown that the way in which the beavers engineer the river system can improve water quality and regulate water flow. They also control scrub and create a diverse age structure of trees by coppicing.
Many thanks to Mark from Devon Wildlife Trust for showing us around the site. I think it is fair to say we were all buzzing from the experience and will be closely following what happens next for beavers in Britain.
by Zoe Caals, Volunteer Ranger
For more information on the Devon Beaver Project see:
A report on the first two years of the project is available to read here: