New insights on wild beaver populations in Kent and Devon

Outside of the River Otter and licensed enclosures, little was publically known about the distribution and population size of wild beavers in England until these two comprehensive surveys.

Last year, Natural England commissioned Beaver Trust, in collaboration with East Kent Beaver Advisory Group (EKBAG) and colleagues from the University of Exeter, to conduct comprehensive surveys of beaver activities in Kent and Devon following increasing reports of wild beavers. These surveys have yielded significant findings, marking a step in understanding and managing the return of this keystone species.

Kent’s pioneering survey

The survey of beavers in Kent, the first of its kind despite beaver presence being recorded for over a decade, suggests that the number of wild beavers now living in Kent is in the hundreds. The findings indicate that an established beaver population has been present for more than 10 years, particularly along the River Stour in East Kent. Remarkably, beavers can even be spotted in the centre of Canterbury.

The Kent survey was completed in collaboration with the EKBAG, Kent Wildlife Trust and the University of Exeter.


Food cache found during the Kent canoe survey

Ben Morris from the Environment Agency, one of the report’s authors and member of EKBAG, explained the methodology: “We don’t count individual beavers, we count territories using field signs like chewed wood, to estimate the number of territories we’ve got.” The survey found 51 territories in the Stour catchment, with each territory averaging three to four animals. The total number of field signs recorded was 2,157, with cut wood being the most common.


The population’s expansion has been significantly limited by the coastal environment and restricted riverine connectivity through Canterbury. The beaver population is dynamic, with core areas of permanent territory establishment and flexible boundaries between the individual territories.

Ecological benefits and legal protections

Beavers were reintroduced to Kent in 2001 on a nature reserve and outside of the River Otter across southern England other populations have been identified. These animals are now protected by law, making it an offence to deliberately capture, injure, kill, or disturb them, or to damage and destroy their breeding sites or resting places without a wildlife management licence from Natural England.

“This comprehensive distribution survey of beavers in Kent demonstrates that beavers can become a normalised part of our fauna,” said Dr Roisin Campbell-Palmer, Beaver Trust’s Head of Restoration, highlighting the importance of the survey. Beavers can contribute significantly to increasing biodiversity, improving water quality, and alleviating flood risks downstream.

Devon’s growing beaver populations

Similarly, Beaver Trust conducted surveys in collaboration with the University of Exeter and Devon Wildlife Trust in Devon along the Rivers Exe and Taw from February to April 2023. Covering a total of 260 km of river channels, the survey recorded 418 beaver field signs, with cut wood being the most common.

The survey identified six active beaver territories along the River Exe, with an estimated population ranging from 14 to 25 individuals, and four active territories along the River Taw, with a population range of 10 to 22 individuals. Across both catchments, only three lodges and three burrows were found and damming throughout the catchments was low and only occurred in active territories.

The small size of these populations and their early establishment phase meant that very few management impacts were observed.

Looking ahead

These surveys underscore the beavers’ resilience and their ability to reintegrate into British ecosystems. The findings will be instrumental in promoting co-existence with beavers throughout these catchments, understanding their impacts, and developing effective management strategies. 


Assessment of wild living beaver populations in East Kent

Assessment of wild living beaver populations on the River Exe and River Taw

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