Sandra with Dr Roisin Campbell-Palmer in Northumberland.

Chapter…Beaver

Sandra King, Beaver Trust CEO

Last summer, early one Sunday morning, I was sitting in my garden reading Bringing Back the Beaver by Derek Gow.  Shortly after spraying my new book with coffee, laughing out loud at one of his character descriptions, I learnt that I grew up just a few miles from the last recorded evidence of beavers in Britain, Bolton Percy in 1789.  Quite a tenuous link to beavers I know, and I have several more tenuous links to beavers I could mention to open this blog.  These relate to some of the inspirational people and organisations who have been working for years to bring beavers back, and who I met when I was Chair of Northumberland Wildlife Trust.  But, and this is a big but, when I was offered the CEO role, I had never seen a beaver in real life.  I will return to that …

Some background

I grew up in Harrogate, played outside a lot, and with no car we walked and cycled most places.  I loved helping my parents with our vegetable garden.  I was immersed in nature from a young age, not in a deliberate or planned way, just as part of my day-to-day life.  Maybe this sparked my lifelong interest in wildlife and the environment, I can’t point to any other obvious reason for it, but what I do know is that it has been there for as long as I can remember.  Most of my work on wildlife and the environment so far has been in a volunteer capacity.  This ranges from Wildlife Trust roles to monitoring local barn owl boxes to rewilding my garden.  I have had a varied career, which includes starting off in public health, working on some innovative programmes around social prescribing and my most recent role as Deputy CEO and Chief Philanthropy Officer at Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland.  

Why Beaver Trust?

So many reasons, too many to list in a short blog. To be honest, hope is a big one.  When you care deeply about nature and the environment, there is a lot to be depressed about just now! Beaver Trust’s work gives me hope. It is making a real, immediate and practical difference to turning around the climate and ecological crises we face. In my new job I will get to work with inspirational individuals and organisations who are pushing for nature based solutions to address these crises. When I talk about the impact of beavers coming back to Britain I will get to talk about numbers of species increasing rather than decreasing. Wow – what an amazing opportunity which I am going to grasp with both hands.  

Credit: Josh Harris

How do you prepare to start your dream job?

With two months notice, and a full time job to finish off, how to make the most of the time available?  My priority was to meet the staff team, who all work remotely living from Cornwall to Scotland, so this was all via zoom meetings. James Wallace, the outgoing CEO, has been very generous with his time and we have had many excitable conversations as he brought me up to speed on work so far.  Definite highlights were the in person meetings I managed to fit in, including a walk at Christmas with the Chair, Al Harris, and a day shadowing Dr Roisin Campbell-Palmer (pictured) on a site visit to a nearby Northumberland estate, assessing suitability for beaver reintroduction.  I also had a rather surreal moonlit flit after work one frosty evening to a remote pub in deepest darkest North Yorkshire to have dinner and a pint with some of the UK’s leading beaver experts.

Getting started and looking ahead

I will be firmly in ‘listen and learn’ mode when I start.  Heading off on my travels for a week in Scotland and a week in Cornwall/Devon to meet some of our key partners and supporters and see our work first hand.  

Beaver Trust’s mission is ‘to restore Britain’s wildlife and rivers with beavers’. Thanks to early ‘beaver pioneers’, and the scientists who have monitored these trial sites, we not only have the evidence to show the strong benefits of bringing back the beavers for biodiversity and for climate, but we also increasingly understand how we can maximise the benefits of beaver reintroductions and minimise any downsides. 

Complex beaver wetland. Elliot McCandless

I am clear that we can only succeed in our mission by working in partnership, and it is this part of Beaver Trust’s work that particularly aligns with how I work. I know we already have fantastic organisations and people who are working closely with us and I am looking forward to strengthening these relationships and bringing new people on board in the months and years ahead.

Seeing my first Beaver

So, back to seeing my first beaver.  At the final round of interviews I was keen to point out the fact that I had not yet managed to see a beaver in real life.  ‘Don’t worry Sandra’ said the interview panel ‘we have lots of beavers’.  I was reassured by that, but it still felt important to me to try and see one before my first official day in post.

With six days to go, and with huge thanks to Jim Bliss at Lowther Estate, I very nearly succeeded!  Stood in my wellies, within touching distance of the beaver lodge, I looked over Jim’s shoulder at the trailcam at footage of Dragonfly and Glen.  I know it doesn’t count, but I was so close …What was wonderful to see, and hear about from Jim, was the fantastic impact the beavers have had on the landscape and wildlife abundance in just two short years.   So, for my second week in post, I am heading up to Scotland, to visit Knapdale and also to shadow Beaver Trust staff working at Tayside, surely there is no way I can fail to see a beaver there?

Sandra with Jim Bliss, Conservation Manager, Lowther Estate February 2022

Contact us for support at info@beavertrust.org and visit www.beavertrust.org for more information and to arrange a trip to the Cornwall Beaver Project.

Sandra King, CEO

Beaver Believer

#beavers #beaverbelievers #beavolution

© Sandra King, 2022.