The Angling Trust has welcomed Defra’s commitment to capture and return to captivity a number of beavers which have escaped from captivity – or have possibly been illegally released – into the River Otter in Devon. The Angling Trust, in its role as the national representative body for angling, has been campaigning against moves to introduce beavers to England because of the damage that they can do to rivers, migrating fish runs and the potential spread of diseases.
Angling Trust Chief Executive Mark Lloyd wrote to Secretary of State Owen Paterson in May urging him to order prompt action to remove the animals from the rivers to avoid them spreading to other rivers in the region and the rest of the country. If permission from landowners along the Otter is not forthcoming, they will use powers to access land to remove the animals because of the significant risk that they may be infected with the tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis which can spread to dogs and humans, for whom it can be fatal.
Evidence from North America and Germany shows the considerable risk to infrastructure – including flood defence assets, roads and railways – from allowing beavers to become established in high risk and populated areas. An adult beaver can bring down a 10 inch wide tree in under an hour, and a single beaver family will fell up to 300 trees a year. In the upper Danube region of Germany, beavers have caused £5 million of damage.
Although beavers were native to some parts of the British Isles more than 500 years ago, our rivers have changed dramatically in the past five centuries and suffer from endemic pollution, over-abstraction of water and the presence of tens of thousands of man-made barriers to fish migration. Nearly all fish species need to migrate up and down rivers in order to complete their life cycle and the addition of beaver dams would only increase the number of obstacles that fish have to overcome.
In a healthy natural ecosystem, beavers can be beneficial because they introduce woody debris to rivers and their dams can trap silt and create new habitats. However, less than 25% of England and Wales’ rivers are in good ecological condition and the Angling Trust’s view is that it would be irresponsible even to consider re-introducing this species into the wild without first restoring our rivers to good health by tackling low flows, pollution and removing the vast majority of man-made barriers to fish migration.
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust said: “Nowadays too many people seem to want to see ‘rewilded’ mammals introduced to our landscapes, but we must re-build damaged river ecosystems from the bottom up, not from the top down. No licences have been issued for the release of beavers into the wild and Defra has confirmed that it has no intention of issuing any such licences. Urgent and concerted action is needed to restore habitats and fish populations in our rivers rather than irresponsible re-introduction programmes.”
Mr Lloyd added: “We are pleased that the government has announced that these beavers will be humanely captured and not shot as the law permits in the case of invasive species or unauthorised introductions.”