Mandy Lieu releasing one of the beavers into their new home (credit: Nick Upton)
Two beavers have been released at Ewhurst Park in Hampshire, marking the first time in 400 years that beavers have lived in the county. Environmentalist Mandy Lieu has been working to regenerate natural processes and produce food sustainably at Ewhurst Park near Basingstoke, since moving there in 2020.
Once settled in, the beavers will become a cornerstone of the wider conservation efforts at Ewhurst. Beavers are a ‘keystone species’ and their reintroduction is one of the most effective ways to restore biodiversity and protect native species. Their dams create natural wetlands and meadows, ecosystems that support all kinds of smaller wildlife such as butterflies, bats, water voles and birds.
In other areas of Britain, where beavers have already been successfully introduced, the impact has been quickly noticeable. Because of this, last year the UK Government recently made the landmark decision to give the Eurasian beaver legal protection in England.
Lieu worked with a team of experts to ready the land for the beavers and built a licensed enclosure to keep them in one area of the estate, in accordance with current licensing rules. She has involved the local community in this project, speaking with local farmers and residents about the beavers and the changes they may bring to the landscape.
Local children have also played an important role, with 22 Hampshire schools invited to take part in a competition run by Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust to name the two beavers. With many brilliant submissions, the chosen winning names are: Hazel for the female, submitted by Mount Pleasant Junior School in Southampton, and Chompy for the male, submitted by Whitchurch CE Primary School in Whitchurch. Ewhurst has a long history of growing hazel for coppicing, something beavers do very well naturally.
In addition to Mandy Lieu, the judging panel included: Rosemary Mayfield, whose family were the high-regarded stewards of Ewhurst Park from 1950-2008; Debbie Tan, CEO of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust; Rob Needham of the Beaver Trust; and Rob West, North Wessex Downs AONB.
The North Wessex Downs AONB contributed to the funding of this project through DEFRA’s Farming in Protected Landscapes programme.
Speaking about the release, Mandy Lieu of Ewhurst Park said: “I am thrilled to be able to bring beavers back to Hampshire after 400 years. It has been a very rewarding journey learning about what beavers need, how they will impact the environment around them and the benefits that they will bring to other animals and plants. I’m so grateful to my friends and neighbours who are on this journey with me. These beavers are not just for Ewhurst, but for the whole community and local area for generations to come.”
Rosemary Mayfield said: “It is wonderful to know that beavers will be coming to live at Ewhurst, which was my family’s home for many decades. The beavers will play a hugely important part in regenerating the environment and stewarding the landscape for generations to come.”
Dr. Roisin Campbell-Palmer, Head of Restoration at Beaver Trust, commented: “We’re really pleased to see another county providing a home for beavers as part of the species’ restoration efforts across Britain. We are working towards their continued return to the wild, with appropriate licensing and management frameworks, but in the meantime enclosures such as the one here at Ewhurst remain an important part of the restoration story. We’re delighted to be bringing beavers here today.”
Rob West, Farming in Protected Landscapes Officer at the North Wessex Downs AONB said: “The beavers being released at Ewhurst will be the first seen in the North Wessex Downs for hundreds of years. We are faced with incredible challenges for people and wildlife, and through Farming in Protected Landscapes the partnership is funding projects that attempt to tackle these issues, such as at Ewhurst. The North Wessex Downs AONB Partnership is delighted to be supporting the team at Ewhurst as they make a difference through proactive nature restoration and public engagement.”
Becky Fisher, Deputy Director of Engagement at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, said: “It’s wonderful to see local communities, and schoolchildren especially, getting involved in this exciting beaver reintroduction project. Engaging young people is crucial if we want the next generation to develop an interest in nature and a passion for wanting to protect it as they grow up. We work with lots of schools across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and were so excited to invite those involved in our Wilder Schools programme to find a name for the two beavers being introduced at Ewhurst Park. What an inspiring way for them to learn more about this incredible species, while also connecting the action they’ve taken on their school grounds to what’s going on in their wider community.”