The beavers will be released into the wild under government proposals to support a “cautious” return of semi-aquatic mammals to English rivers.
Native animals will also benefit from legal protection in England, making it an offense to capture, kill, deliberately disturb or injure them, or damage their breeding grounds or resting places, in part of efforts to support their recovery.
Within the framework of the plans submitted for consultation, applications for permits to release beavers into the wild should meet certain criteria, in particular local membership and the guarantee of support for landowners and users of the river.
Beavers are considered natural engineers who restore wetland habitats by building dams and cutting down trees, slowing down, storing and filtering water in their habitat, which attracts other wildlife and reduces flooding by downstream.
The species was hunted to extinction in Britain in the 16th century for its fur, glands and meat.
They have already made a partial return to England, and are found in the wild on the River Otter in Devon, the site of a successful official reintroduction trial, as well as on other rivers due to releases or illegal escapes.
They have also been introduced to enclosures in a number of English counties to help manage flooding and create habitat for other wildlife.
Conservationists support the return of beavers to restore wetland habitats, stimulate other wildlife, limit climate impacts such as increased flooding and support ecotourism – although landowners have expressed concerns about local impact.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is launching a 12-week consultation on further reintroductions to nature and the management of extant wild populations in England, which Environment Secretary George Eustice says , would take a cautious approach.
Eustice said, “We are committed to providing opportunities for the reintroduction of once native species, such as beavers, where the benefits to the environment, people and the economy are evident.
“But we also understand that there are implications for landowners, so we take a cautious approach to ensure that all potential impacts are carefully considered.”
The consultation solicits views on potential future releases into the wild, current and future releases into enclosures, and management of beaver activity or impacts in the wild, including on river otters and where they occur. he other free-living beavers have taken up residence.
He proposes that licenses for reintroduction into the wild should meet criteria such as demonstrating positive stakeholder engagement and local buy-in, and evidence that a full assessment has been undertaken of impacts on land. surrounding areas, waterways, infrastructure, habitats and species.
Projects should also ensure that support for landowners and river users is put in place as part of the proposals.
The government also announced its intention to grant legal protection to beavers in England, which would come into effect in 2022.
Rob Stoneman of Wildlife Trusts said: “There is an impressive body of evidence to show how beavers can help improve the quality of rivers and wetlands and the wildlife they support, improve water quality and reduce flood risks, as well as contributing to carbon. storage room.
“Beavers are fabulous – they can do it all for free. “
But, he added, “Beavers are wild animals – and as their populations grow, their activities will need to be managed. He said trusts will continue to play a central role in responsibly returning beavers.
Eva Bishop of the Beaver Trust said the announcement was an important step forward for the recovery of beavers in Britain and that it was vital to build consensus on their return.
“We hope to see beavers accepted into the countryside like any other native wildlife – especially as they have a role to play in restoring nature and the resilience of British wildlife in the face of the climate emergency,” she declared.
Professor Alastair Driver, director of Rewilding Britain, said the beavers could help rehabilitate the countryside, an important tool in tackling natural and climate emergencies.
“Beavers can do much of this rewilding completely free of charge in rivers and wetlands. . “
The measures would apply to England. Beavers have also returned to the wild in Scotland, with the Scottish government granting them legal protection in 2019, although they can be killed under license if they damage farmland.