Wednesday, 20 August 2014

On the River Otter: Devon Wildlife Trust consultation to discuss beavers: Ottery St Mary: "overwhelming support"

Last night's public meeting in Ottery to consider the beaver population
Futures Forum: On the River Otter: Devon Wildlife Trust consultation to discuss beavers: Ottery St Mary: today Tuesday 19th August ... but would the beaver be "subject to potential eradication measures under the Infrastructure Bill"?

... was not only well attended, but the result of the Devon Wildlife Trust's consultation is very clear.

From today's Express & Echo:

Overwhelming support for River Otter beavers to stay wild heard at consultation

By Exeter Express and Echo | Posted: August 20, 2014

OVERWHELMING opposition against the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) proposals to remove a family of beavers from the River Otter this autumn was expressed at a public consultation event.

The wave of public support for the animals was demonstrated at the Devon Wildlife Trust staged event in Ottery St Mary, which is just upstream from where the beavers are thought to be residing.

Once native to the UK, beavers were hunted to extinction 500 years ago and it is still unknown how they made their return to the wild on the banks of the river.

After they came to Defra’s attention around seven months ago, the department announced its controversial decision in July to remove and re-home the beavers because of the risk of disease and the negative impact they could have on the landscape.

Defra officials confirmed that there is a low chance the beavers may carry Echinococcus multilocularis disease and because the animals have not been established in Britain for so long, it was necessary to assess their impact.

But critics of the proposals believe that the suggestion of rounding up the beavers is an “over reaction”, and the benefits they bring to the environment, far outweigh any negatives they may be culpable for.

During the meeting, which followed an afternoon drop-in event, local residents were informed of Defra’s plans to plot traps along the river, potentially from as far downstream as Budleigh Salterton and upstream as far as Honiton, this autumn.

The trust also informed the some 100 attendees that the process of trapping and testing is likely to be anything but swift, due to the complicated and invasive testing procedure and the risk that Defra could face a legal challenge to releasing the unlicensed animals back into the wild, meaning they could be in captivity far longer than planned.

The response from the public consultation will contribute to the trust’s application to Natural England for a license to study the animals over five years to assess their impact on the environment including fish stocks and flooding.

The trust’s Steve Hussey, said: “There was overwhelming support for the beaver population – we can only hope that Defra will listen. Very little is known about the beavers, for example if they are European or Canadian. A controlled study would mean Defra, the trust and the local community can make an informed decision about their long term impact on the English landscape.”

Independent ward member for Ottery St Mary, Councillor Claire Wright, added: “The most important thing to remember is that beavers are a native species and they will live in harmony, and enhance, the natural environment and biodiversity. The chances of them having this disease is so remote, this is a completely over the top, irrational reaction.”

East Devon residents asked for views on River Otter beavers
Pictures: Baby beavers born at East Devon stately home
Defra say catching East Devon's beavers could take months after rumours the wild animals are now in Honiton
Devon Wildlife Trust bid for licence to keep East Devon beavers wild

Overwhelming support for River Otter beavers to stay wild heard at consultation | Exeter Express and Echo
Residents want beaver family living on Devon river to stay | Western Morning News

From Independent Cllr Claire Wright's blog today:

Support among Ottery residents for beavers is overwhelming

Wednesday, 20 August 2014 3 Comments by Claire

There was overwhelming support among residents last night for the family of beavers to remain living on the River Otter, at Devon Wildlife Trust’s formal consultation event at the Institute.

But residents also heard that DEFRA would be capturing and keeping the animals for testing at an unknown location for maybe months.

DEFRA says it is worried about a disease known as EM that the beavers may have, which could possibly be living in their gut and cause cysts. However, it is only the adults that could have it and only if they are imported beavers, not locally escaped beavers. Adults live between seven and eight years and sightings of the beavers on the Otter, have been reported for almost a decade. For humans to contract EM, which can be serious, a dog or fox must scavenge a beaver carcass and then a human must pick up the disease from dog faeces. The risk is thought to be extremely low.

To me, DEFRA’s reaction seems irrational and odd. Surely we face more dangers crossing roads every day, than from a disease which the beavers probably don’t even have - and even if they did, the chances of anyone contracting it, would be tiny. DEFRA say that they will put traps down along the river to catch the beavers in the autumn. The traps, which measure about four feet wide by two feet deep, will probably be placed along most of the river’s length.

Some residents were concerned by the possible damage that the beavers could do. Devon Wildlife Trust staff shared films of captive beavers that they are studying in North Devon in a fenced off part of the countryside. We saw them nibble trees, make dams and use the channels they created as canals to transport tree branches. Staff confirmed that they do nibble trees and cause some damage, however, any problems are likely to be limited because the beavers are native animals and live in harmony with their surroundings.

The Angling Trust has made vociferous objections to DEFRA, to the animals living wild on the Otter. They say they are concerned about dams and migrating fish. However, it is thought that the beavers are unlikely to dam the river Otter because it is too wide.

In North Devon the biodiversity has significantly increased with the beavers presence, attracting more amphibians and birds to the area, as well as helping to purify the water. As herbivores, they do not eat fish or any other flesh. Already a road that is regularly flooded nearby, has stopped flooding because of the beavers doing their work.

Derek Gow, a beaver expert and environmentalist, who has been pivotal to raising awareness of DEFRA’s plans, said that he was concerned for the animals stress levels. They are wild creatures and capturing them and keeping them in family groups would be enormously difficult he said. The kits cannot manage without their parents and could well die if separated.

We heard that most local landowners spoken to so far, were supportive of the beavers remaining on the Otter. Cllr Roger Giles read out a message from local farmer, John Vinnicombe, who said they had done a bit of damage on his land but not much and wanted to see them stay.

I said that I was poised ready for action if DEFRA did not return the animals within a short space of time. There can be no excuses for DEFRA hanging on to them for months. They must test them quickly and bring them back to the Otter as a priority to minimise the inevitable huge stress that the creatures will be under, once they are captured.

As one resident pointed out with a note of irony, our government lectures other governments about preserving their tigers, lions and elephants … but when it comes to a previously extinct native species that is living happily and harmlessly on a Devon river they rush in and remove them … just in case .... they might possibly ... have a disease that would be virtually impossible to catch.

A show of hands at the end of the meeting indicated that the support for them remaining on the river was overwhelming.

Did you attend last night? Would you like the beavers to stay on the river? If so, email our MP, Hugo Swire to tell him, at swireh@parliament.uk

Photograph: The Institute in Ottery last night. Packed with people wanting to hear about the beavers.


1. At 10:44 am on 20th Aug Mark Lane wrote:

Such a rich seam of humour here. That aside I wonder if DEFRA are more concerned with the implication of damming on upstream flooding on property and land values rather than downstream flood management? The health implications are there but really very small although one never knows as the population multiplies. This is the same with any unknown - and it is the fear of how things would change and impact (in a complex system) over time. But DEFRA cannot or should not react to change in this way. And surely there are bigger horses (that have bolted) to put resources to such as decent Deer Management to try and control the tick/lymes disease issue in the UK. One which is under-reported and under-recognised on its HUGE impact. More beavers please!

2. At 12:28 pm on 20th Aug Sandra Semple wrote:

A few cats and dogs carry and/or pass on diseases. Should we catch them all and imprison them?

Many fish and birds on rivers and estuaries have diseases. Should we catch them all and kill them?

Devon Wildlife Trust is a reputable organisation which has offered to monitor these wonderful animals. Why isn’t that enough?

Where Localism?

3. At 02:52 pm on 20th Aug John Richards wrote:

And if they didn’t do there tests on these animals and just 1 person was infected what would you all say then. The national uproar would be horrendous. It seems that as usual they are damned no matter what they do.

Support among Ottery residents for beavers is overwhelming - Claire Wright

A petition has been gaining some ground over the past weeks:


Save the Free Beavers of England
of 15,000 signatures
Campaign created by Castor Anglicus Icon-email

Stop the trapping and possible culling of free beavers living on the River Otter in Devon and instead ensure they are healthy, and cause no problems to other riverbank users.

Why is this important?

The beaver is the most important, formerly native, animal to Britain that could create landscapes that protect our native plants and animals. They also save taxpayers money in water treatment and flood management costs. The beaver was hunted to extinction and we have a duty to bring them back to our rivers. The effects of beavers will improve water quality, reduce flooding and help turn our river banks back into wildlife havens. This is resisted by some groups who want to exploit our river banks for private gain or fear change in the countryside.

Free the beaver - Join the campaign group on: 
twitter @CastorAnglicus          
See recent Article in Guardian: 

The Free Beavers of Devon
A decision has been made at the most senior levels of DEFRA, probably a ministerial decision to remove the free beavers living on the river Otter in Devon.
Officials from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency AHVLA- Defra have been instructed to find out how to do this and if possible rehome the beavers in a Zoo, but possibly kill them if not.

Who wants to get rid of the beavers?
The political force is coming from Conservative ministers with pressure from the Angling Trust & some other groups who fear beaver’s impact on land & lifestyle.

Some groups are scared beavers will change rivers and supress fishing – the best scientific evidence clearly shows this is wrong and beavers enhance fish stocks and make rivers better for wildlife

Beavers in the rest of the UK:
There are probably 300 beavers living wild in the UK in over 10 populations, mostly in Scotland, but a few in places in England and wales.

How can we stop this?
The decision is made and attempts to trap the beavers are only a few weeks away –
1. Sign the petition: 
2. write to your MP and tell them to stop
3. Write to the Government minister involved, Lord DeMauley: demauley@parliament.uk
What are the ‘Save the Free Beavers of England’ group doing?’
A broad alliance of wildlife groups led by the Charities: Devon Wildlife Trust & Wildwood Trust are campaigning for a change in policy to test the beavers to ensure they have no parasites and to monitor and mitigate any affects the beavers have to local landowners and river users. This has been rejected by DEFRA at the behest of ministers. Many DEFRA officials and wildlife experts believe that monitoring is the best policy. Where Trapping has been carried out in Scotland it led to the death of a young beaver. 
At present we are:
1. Contacting local landowners and ask them to refuse permission for DEFRA officials coming on to their land, which they have the legal right to do.
2. Promote the case that testing and monitoring is the best course of action
3. Contacting zoos and animals parks to refuse DEFRA’s request to rehome the beavers, as the conditions will cause great stress to the beavers and caused the death of a young beaver when tried in Scotland.
4. Set up a team to monitor DEFRA officials to ensure they do not break the law or act in a way that will hurt the beavers’ welfare
5. Mount a legal challenge to this process: 

A. Breach of Habitats Directive: There is a very good chance the UK is in breach or the Habitats Directive, beavers are a European Protected Species, in the way they have treated beavers, not recognized that beavers have re-colonised the UK in the last 15 years and not put in a proper licensing and monitoring system.
B. Animal welfare grounds – private prosecutions of individuals for any harm they bring to the beaver
C. Judicial Review of the Governments actions in this decision

Video of Wild Beaver Mother & Kit in the UK:

How it will be delivered

We will e-mail this to government misters involved & mount a media campaign

Save the Free Beavers of England | Campaigns by You

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