England might reintroduce beavers after 400 years

A female beaver in the water with two small beavers next to her, they're looking to the left
A female beaver with kids is at the River Otter in Devon, Britain, photo: Devon Wildlife Trust/Reuters

Beavers are being encouraged to return to England, cautiously. A British government consultation, launched Wednesday, will spend 12 weeks studying how best to reintroduce and protect the animals across England.

Beavers are a native British species, but they were hunted to extinction about 400 years ago, a government statement said. The aim of the consultation is to “seek views on the cautious release and management of beavers into the wild.”

The government will also be announcing new laws to keep beavers safe in England. The new regulations will “make it an offence to deliberately capture, kill, disturb or injure beavers, or damage breeding sites or resting places.”

Environment Secretary George Eustice said the government was “committed to providing opportunities to reintroduce formerly native species, such as beavers, where the benefits for the environment, people and the economy are clear.”

“But we also understand that there are implications for landowners, so we are taking a cautious approach to ensure that all potential impacts are carefully considered,” he added.

The consultation launch follows a successful beaver reintroduction project in Devon, a rural county in southwest England, where a family of beavers were allowed to stay after a five-year trial showed their dam-building activities were good for wildlife and people.

The government said the Devon project “brought a wealth of benefits to the local area and ecology, including enhancing the environment at a local wildlife site, creating wetland habitat, and reducing flood risk for housing downstream.”

Beavers, the statement said, are referred to as “ecosystem engineers” for their ability to build dams from trees, mud and rocks. The dams help to raise water levels and create supportive environments for other animals.

The reintroduction announcement comes as part of the government’s commitment to increasing biodiversity and tackling climate change.

Any proposed beaver reintroductions projects must show that “support for landowners and river users is put in place.”

Licences for beaver releases will be required, as well as assessments of the effects new beaver populations will have on local land and water environments and on other species.

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