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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Click on the questions to reveal their answers:

Species

+ What records exist of beaver in Wales?

Writing in the 12 th Century, the Welsh cleric Sylvester Gerald de Barri (‘Giraldus Cambrensis’) says there were beavers on the river Teify, at Cilgerran in Cardiganshire.

Gerald was recording his journey with Archbishop Baldwin who was on a preaching mission to Wales in 1188, to raise support for the Crusades.

This seems to be the last natural historic record of living beavers in England and Wales, although there is an oral tradition of beaver in north Wales, at Nant Francon, which refers back to around 1650-1700 [Reference Professor Bryony Coles, Exeter University].

Prior to that Hywel Dda, King of Wales (most of it!) in the 10th century, specifies in the Law that beaver skins, together with ermine and pine marten, are royal privileges.

In evaluating compensation in the Law , a beaver’s skin is 60 pence. This was the worth of a ‘best horse’- perhaps £5,000 or more in today’s money. This is a sure indicator that beaver were very scarce and thereby valuable in the Wales of 950 AD. [Reference Lynn Hughes]

Control

+ Once reintroduced, could beavers become an uncontrollable pest?

No, beavers cannot become an uncontrollable pest, like for example, grey squirrel or rabbit.

Experience from Europe indicates that control and impact mitigation is quite straightforward. Beavers are easy to catch in Hancock live traps or by other methods, so can be simply and quickly removed from any area if necessary.

Beaver are restricted to suitable rivers, streams and lakes usually staying within 20 metres of the river bank and rarely ranging further than 100 metres. They do not like crossing land between water courses so do not readily spread between catchment areas.

Beaver have been reintroduced to 27 countries in continental Europe. If this process had posed a significant overall problem, and not brought substantial benefits, such reintroductions would long ago have been halted and reversed.

+ Culling beaver is currently illegal. Would this pose a problem?

Lethal control would very rarely be needed because of the relative cost-effectiveness of alternative management methods. Beaver population growth is very slow for 10 years following reintroduction, and thereafter removal to another site would be a practical option. It is already possible to undertake localised culling with a licence, where nuisance can be proven and there is no feasible alternative.

In the 15 – 20 years before beaver populations might necessitate selective culling, protective EU legislation under Section 12 Annex 4 of the Habitats Directive would almost certainly have been rescinded to facilitate localized culling or even hunting seasons, as already occur in Sweden and several Central European countries. In Germany, with areas of intensive agricultural production, a couple of hundred beaver are culled each year under licence.

The Directive is currently under review, which may well result in removal of beaver altogether from the Annex.

Funding

+ Landholdings where beaver may have impacts will not necessarily be those who benefit from reintroduction through tourism revenue etc. How could this be dealt with?

Overall benefits of reintroduction would outweigh the likely cost of any impact, however there may be local instances where impacts are not matched by benefits.

A Beaver Management Support Service is currently also being assessed. This could provide a network of advice on beaver. It should also be possible to arrange a localized rapid-reaction service for removal and translocation of beaver.

Impact

+ How would cost of beaver impact compare with that of other wildlife?

Deer damage to agriculture alone in England has been estimated at £4.3 million, or £33 (€47) per km2 per annum (Wilson 2003). Rabbit damage has been cited as £44 (€63) / km2 per annum for Britain (Rees 1985) depending on the incidence of myxomatosis.

In contrast to this, the Swedish government has concluded that their 100,000 beaver have no economic impact on a national scale.

The Norwegian Forest Owners Association don’t consider damage to timber is significant enough to insure against.   Equally, fisheries authorities, also in Norway, where there is a valuable salmon sport industry, consider there is no need to fund research given the minimal impact by beaver.

+ Can we reasonably assess the short, medium and long term impacts of beaver on species, ecosystems and landscape?

Yes. There has been plenty of research on mature beaver populations of both species (Castor fiber and Castor canadensis) that give us information on the impacts of beavers on other wildlife and the riparian landscape.

Much of this has been reviewed in the scientific paper: Rosell et al (2005)Ecological impact of beavers Castor fiber and Castor canadensis and their ability to modify ecosystems . Mammal Review 35:248-276.

+ Will the presence of beaver on a river affect the Catchment Management Plans and Flood Risk Management?

Beaver would not be reintroduced to any river catchment if it is thought likely that there would be any significant adverse impact on the delivery of Catchment Management Plans and Flood Risk Management strategies.

There is no substantive evidence that beaver cause significant flood damage. Indeed, in many instances, the effects of beaver on a river catchment can lessen the impact of flooding by slowing water down and reducing sediment load.   Where local flooding occurs (e.g. through blocked culverts) this can be readily prevented or managed.

Beaver structures can alleviate pollution, by increasing oxygenation and retention of colloidal materials [ Rosell et al (2005) Ecological impact of beavers and their ability to modify ecosystems. Mammal Review 35:248-276.]

+ Could beavers affect current agri-environment management agreements that farmers and landowners may have entered into?

Agreement would be reached with Welsh Government, Countryside Council for Wales and other regulatory bodies to ensure that agri-environment schemes would not suffer as a result of beaver reintroduction.

This should for example include protection of payments for riparian planting where this is subsequently impacted by beaver.

The Welsh Government and Countryside Council for Wales will need to approve any reintroduction plans before they are enacted.

Reintroduction

+ How would an initial reintroduction be managed?

A location with good habitat and abundant existing food supplies would be chosen.

Reintroduced animals would be provided with individual electronic tags and monitored by a designated team.

Any undesirable impacts of beavers would be managed by a dedicated team.

+ Who will have responsibility for beavers in the long-term?

The Welsh Government via the Countryside Council for Wales would have ultimate responsibility in the long term.

Day to day management may be undertaken by suitable Non-Governmental Organisations such as the Wildlife Trusts, probably in partnership with the Environment Agency Wales.

+ Is the reintroduction of beaver the thin edge of the wedge, i.e., will there be moves to reintroduce wolves, bears and lynx?

The Welsh Beaver Project is only concerned with assessment of the potential for reintroducing beaver to Wales.   There is no link to any other species not currently present in the British Isles.

Unlike many other species, beaver were driven to extinction by over-hunting for their meat, fur and medicinal by-products rather than through habitat loss or because they were considered a problem species.

This means that they could be reintroduced relatively easily as suitable habitat is still present. Beaver have also existed alongside farming, fishing and other human activities and due to their limited range, their presence would create minimal disruption.   They do not pose any danger to livestock or people.

It should be noted that other reintroductions of species formerly present, such as the Red Kite and Osprey, have not resulted in problems. Indeed they have generated significant revenue from nature tourism. For example, eagle watching on Mull generates far more income now than farming.