We welcome their confirmation that the protected status of beavers in England will not be reviewed and are pleased to see commitment to the creation of buffer zones along watercourses through the Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS).
However, we are deeply concerned with their position “that the reintroduction of species is not a priority for the government” given how this will likely halt the restoration of beavers in the wild in England despite clear public support, a large body of scientific evidence, an appropriate management framework and a misunderstanding of how the species can help the with Government’s aims of habitat restoration and creation.
In August 2021, Former Secretary of State for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs George Eustice announced ‘We are committed to providing opportunities to reintroduce formerly native species, such as beavers, where the benefits for the environment, people and the economy are clear.’ at the launch of DEFRA’s detailed consultation on its approach to the reintroduction and management of beavers in England. Over 3,000 submissions were received, 270 of which were from stakeholder organisations, in response to Defra’s proposed approach to wild releases, existing wild beaver populations, beaver enclosures, and management. 69% agreed with the proposed approach to wild releases but with some calling for the Government to provide a clear strategic direction for reintroduction of the species.
Over the past five years Natural England, in collaboration with a range of stakeholders including Beaver Trust, has completed a large body of work on the reintroduction of beavers. This includes reviewing the evidence on the interactions of beavers with the natural and human environment, surveying and health screening existing populations, conducting genetic diversity analysis of beavers in England, and much more to understand the benefits of beavers and the challenges to inform future reintroductions and the management of the species.
Effective approach to management
In early September 2022, Natural England published a detailed management framework which clearly stated non-licensable and licensable actions. Where management activities can only be undertaken under a licence, Natural England engaged with stakeholders to develop three ‘class licences’ that can be used for beaver management and has embarked on a large training program to prepare stakeholders to manage beaver impacts, in advance of beavers returning in most areas. A class licence requires a one-off registration and allows a group or class of users to undertake common management activities in a standardised way. This approach allows conflicts with beaver activities to be managed swiftly.
More recently funding has been made available to those experiencing localised flooding or other conflicts due to beaver damming activities through the countryside stewardship grant scheme.
Misunderstanding of the role reintroduced species play in driving habitat restoration
Beavers have been scientifically proven to create habitats in which innumerable species of plants, fungi, fish, invertebrates, amphibians, and mammals use for food, shelter, and reproduction. If the Government proceeds to halt the restoration of the species in order to ‘focus on habitat restoration and creation,’ it will show a deep disconnect in the Government’s understanding of the role keystone species such as the beaver can play in creating, restoring, and maintaining biodiverse habitats at a critical time when we need to act urgently to tackle the biodiversity crisis and if we are ever to realistically meet its own target contained within the 25- year Environment Plan.
Considering all of the above, we believe England is poised to begin restoring the species in the wild and we urge the Government to stick to its original commitment to provide opportunities to restore beavers in the wild by publishing a wild release licensing framework given the benefits to the environment, people and the economy have been demonstrated.
If the Government truly is committed to restoring biodiversity at the rate that is required to tackle the biodiversity crisis it would prioritise the creation of a comprehensive national strategy for beavers in England, which strives to maximise the environmental benefits of beavers while effectively managing and mitigating any negative consequences, instead of de-prioritising the reintroduction of species.
The EFRA Committee report was published in July 2023. You can read our full response here.