Monday, 3 March 2014

Beavers and boar are back - its time to talk protection

Beavers are back in England. Just last week one washed up under a car in Kent. A few days later a family were filmed doing their thing in Devon. This is terrific news. They are beautiful native animals. They boost biodiversity, benefit fish and create exciting micro-habitats. The evidence that they can help reduce flooding by slowing the flow of rivers is extensive. They make me happy by their presence.

Aside from the handful of animals in England, there are large populations spreading throughout Scotland, and even occasional reports from south Wales. Most of these animals are 'unofficial'. They have escaped from private collections, or been released by persons unknown. Who knows, perhaps they even swam here? The point is that they are European beavers, and they are here. Yes, one day we may need to control their actions in specific locations, but the fact that they have reintroduced themselves will little fuss and expense should be cause for celebration.

Okay I am not suggesting this is the best way to introduce other animals (beavers are relatively benign compared to other species that might be considered) but I can't pretend I am not thrilled. The thing is now to protect them. Like the wild boar (another native species which has re-established itself throughout southern Britain) the beavers are likely to have detractors. There will be those who fear them, or the changes they bring. Many will be shot, or run over, or poisoned, or captured by collectors. None of this will be unique to the beaver however, or invalidate their presence. Sadly all wild animals in Britain suffer the same hurdles. The point is that the sooner we can get the beaver, and the boar, listed formally as native species breeding in these islands, the sooner we can get them protected and managed as a population, rather than by reactive local authorities. Without this there is a real danger that they could vanish once again and I for one am not happy to wait another 500 years for a chance to see them returned.

The first step to this must surely be to get these animals, and a few others, listed in the Wildlife and Countryside Act. When it was drawn up they didn't exist, and extinct native species are not included. It should be no practical trouble - it is just a case of adding them to the Annex.

So far the mainstream campaign groups have been very quiet on the subject. Like DEFRA they have been keeping their heads down and hoping it would go away. We need to change that. While there may be arguments over how best to support / manage / control our newly reappeared neighbours, we can surely get them to agree that they are here and that they should stay.