Beaver reintroduction at Holnicote

A beaver swimming in a river

Beavers have been welcomed to the Holnicote Estate. The beavers help with natural flood management and improve biodiversity on the estate.

 

Beaver reintroduction 

The plan, approved by Natural England, will see a pair of these amazing mammals released into two fenced areas of woodland at Holnicote on the edge of Exmoor in Somerset.

The beaver reintroduction (which happened in January 2020), was the first made by the National Trust and combined plans to create priority habitat for nature - increasing the diversity of species and wildlife in its care.

Beavers were once an important part of the ecosystem but became extinct in the UK in the 16th Century due to hunting for their fur, meat and scent glands.

Ben Eardley, National Trust Project Manager at Holnicote says: “Our aim is that the beavers become an important part of the ecology at Holnicote, developing natural process and contributing to the health and richness of wildlife in the area. They will be part of our innovative ‘Stage 0’ project, part of the Riverlands work which is about restoring natural process and complexity in parts of the river catchment”.

A beaver baby arrives on Exmoor

The team at Porlock were very pleased to spot the first ever beaver kit born on National Trust land arrive after the successful introduction of beavers there in January 2020. It's thought to be the first one born on Exmoor since beavers were hunted to extinction 400 years ago. The beavers have been busy, not just starting a family but also transforming the 2.7 hectare beaver enclosure from unmanaged woodland to a more open wetland attracting more wildlife in just 18 months.

The young beaver, known as a kit, was captured on camera in July 2021 swimming behind its mother back to the family lodge, while she stopped to nibble a branch.

We first had an inkling that our pair of beavers had mated successfully when the male started being a lot more active building and dragging wood and vegetation around the site in late spring.  The female also changed her usual habits, and stayed out of sight, leaving the male to work alone.  The family should now stay together for the next two years before the kit will naturally want to go off to create a new territory of its own.

The benefits of beavers 

Beavers are known as a keystone species within their ecosystem. They can change their habitat and create new ones. This can help the both the wildlife and improve the river quality. Beavers create wetlands which support other species such as water voles, otters, dragonflies and amphibians. Their presence in our river catchments is a sustainable way to help make our landscapes more resilient to climate change and the extremes of weather it will bring.

The dams the beavers create will hold water in the dry periods, help to lessen flash flooding downstream, reduce erosion and improve water quality by holding silt.

Mark Harold, Director of Land and Nature at the National Trust said: “We know from the recent State of Nature report that wildlife is in decline, 41 percent of species since 1970 and 15 percent of species are under threat from extinction. These releases are part of the Trust’s wider objective to restore 25,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitats by 2025. Part of this work means we are focusing on helping nature recover, and the reintroduction of beavers is just one example of our approach to restore nature processes”.


The reintroduction

The beavers will now be getting to work to help slow the flow of water, their work will help to hold water in dry periods, which will reduce the impact of drought. In turn, this will lessen flash-flooding downstream, reducing erosion and improving water quality by holding silt and pollutants. 

The project will be carefully monitored with help from Exeter University and others, to note both ecological and hydrological changes to habitat.