This is the magical moment that a beaver was released into the Forder Valley in Plymouth for the first time in over 400 years.
The 20kg male Eurasian Beaver was caught in late September in the wild from the Tay Catchment in Scotland. He was released on Tuesday into specially designed re-wilding enclosure near Poole Farm in the first urban release of beavers in the UK.
The beaver’s behaviour and actions will now be monitored in the hope that its actions will reduce flooding further downstream and create habitats for wildlife in the Bircham Valley.
It’s all part of the Green Minds project*, a city council initiative which will re-wild urban parks, gardens and verges and introduce a new system of working with partners. Crucially, it will encourage more people from all walks to life to enjoy the health benefits that our green spaces provide.
So why are you doing this?
Because as part of the Green Minds project, we want to create more spaces for wildlife and nature in different pockets around the city.
As well as being charismatic, beavers are fascinating creatures as they engineer their surroundings by felling trees, damming sections of river and creating a network of canals. They also create wetland habitats which are great for birds, fish and invertebrates and they also ‘slow the flow’ of water during and after rainfall that can help reduce flooding downstream.
We’re going to be monitoring two very similar rivers – Bircham and Seaton - to see how the beavers are able to make positive impacts. We can compare and contrast with the Seaton stream which has similar characteristics.
Beavers also lead to improved water quality and quantity and store carbon in a really efficient way to help combat the climate emergency.
The beaver is coming from the wild to an enclosure. Is this cruel?
No, and here’s why. Our beaver was trapped in the Tay catchment in Scotland. There, beavers have been in the wild for some time and as a result, where there are conflicts with farmers, a licence can be obtained to cull them. Our beaver was rescued from this fate and will now live a very happy life in our 3.5 ha re-wilding enclosure, which covers 600m of river in a wooded valley.
It is important that in any reintroduction the welfare of the animals is of paramount importance, that why we’ve been working with partners including leading beaver experts at Devon Wildlife Trust, re-wilding specialist Dereck Gow and Roisin Campbell–Palmer, the UK’s top beaver ecologist, to ensure that this is the case.
Why just one?
We would have liked two – a male and a female, but the female is proving somewhat elusive at the moment. It’s not the end of the world, though - 20% of beavers are solitary anyway. We’re still hoping to bring a female in within the next few months so that we can hopefully start a family.
Isn’t there a lot of construction work going on nearby?
Yes, but beavers are pretty resilient to disturbance. The construction phase of the Forder Valley Link road is a possibly risk, but we have come to the conclusion that they would cope with it ok, particularly as they are a nocturnal animal and most of the activity would be during the day, so it wouldn’t impact on their natural behaviour too much. A beaver lodge is an amazingly well insulated structure, and so the noise shouldn't penetrate it too much.
Also, the enclosure is large, so there’s plenty of scope for them to move upstream and further away from the noise, if they feel threatened. It will be interesting to see if they do - but we're not anticipating it.
Can I come and see them?
Absolutely, but just not at the moment. Poole Farm is still closed to the public but as soon as we can open gain, we will.
Where can I get more information?
We’ve got a special Green Minds website set up at www.greenmindsplymouth.com and you can follow our Natural Infrastructure team on social media at www.facebook.com/natureplymouth and www.twitter.com/NaturePlymouth
You can find out more about Poole Farm and the surrounding Derriford Community Park project on our website - www.plymouth.gov.uk/poolefarm
*The Green Minds project is funded thanks to €4million grant from the European Regional Development Fund under their Urban Innovation Actions Programme and includes the University of Plymouth, Real Ideas Organisation, Plymouth College of Art, Devon Wildlife Trust, The Data Place and the National Trust as partners.