Beavers make themselves at home on Exmoor estate

Beavers have been settling in to new homes at a National Trust site where they have been introduced to help manage water for people and nature.

Two pairs of beavers were put into two enclosures on the Holnicote Estate in Exmoor, Somerset, as part of the “Riverlands” project to restore the river catchment to a more natural estate to help wildlife and reduce flooding.

Webcam footage shows the beavers feeding and grooming as they settle into their new surroundings, which they are expected to engineer into more of a wetland setting that will slow water flow and provide habitat for other wildlife.

Beavers became extinct in mainland Britain in the 16th century due to hunting, but are now present in a handful of sites across the country, including living wild on the River Otter in Devon.

Eurasian beavers
Eurasian beavers

The beavers released in Somerset have been relocated from wild populations on the River Tay catchment in Scotland.

Riverlands project manager Ben Eardley said the venture is “exciting”, with the beavers engaging the public and staff.

One of the two sites, each of which is around three hectares (seven acres), has old mill ponds which provide the deeper water beavers prefer, though they are expected to develop the pond network further in the future.

The other is a fast-flowing river site where logs were put in to slightly dam the watercourse for the beavers, and they have already started to create deeper and more extensive ponds.

Mr Eardley said: “There are lots of signs of feeding at the fast-flowing site – they’ve created a larder of food and dragged across lots of woody vegetation into the ponds.”

There are also plenty of signs of the beavers at the other site feeding and storing up food in the deeper water.

The beavers are getting quite habitual, coming out at certain times, and have been caught on camera, so rangers have seen them and know they are doing well, he added.

As part of the project, at one of the sites the Trust wants to create a viewing area so people can see the change the beavers make as they turn it into a wetland landscape.

Drone flyovers will capture changes to vegetation in the landscape and University of Exeter experts will monitor the impact of the beavers, such as the flow of water through the site and water quality.

The National Trust said the Riverlands project also includes work to restore rivers and streams to a “stage zero” state where they flow through multiple channels, pools and shallow riffles as they would have done before human interference.

It is hoped the restoration scheme and the beavers will slow the flow of water, reducing the risk of flooding further down the catchment and tackling drought by holding more water in the landscape, as well as boosting wildlife.

Mr Eardley said: “The beavers are part of an approach we are taking through the river catchment.

“When you give water more space, you’re essentially slowing the flow through the catchment.

“The whole purpose is to work with natural processes to develop benefits for people and nature.

“Beavers are part of that – they’re a tool to create a greater richness of wildlife, more diversity, more complexity and help improve the natural function of the river catchment.”