Beavering away: nature's heroes

A beaver swimming in the river at Holnicote

We've released beavers to an area of river running through the edge of Exmoor in Somerset to help us tackle the challenges brought by climate change.

An adult pair of Eurasian beavers have been released at Holnicote Estate in Somerset to improve flood management and support wildlife on the rivers we care for. 

The beavers will help make areas of the river more resilient to climate change and the extremes of weather it will bring. The dams they create will hold water in dry periods, help to lessen flash-flooding downstream, reduce erosion and improve water quality. 


Eager beavers help us prevent flooding

There are now two beavers splashing around in a peaceful river enclosure on the Holnicote Estate in Somerset. Once settled, the pair will start changing the landscape in ways that will help us tackle some of the challenges brought by climate change. Watch these shy creatures tentatively explore their new home.

The two beavers – a male and a female – have been released into a 2.7-hectare fenced area of unmanaged woodland on the estate. Once settled, the beavers will build a lodge or burrow and then begin to modify the enclosure to suit their needs, allowing them to move around freely through the water and access food. 

Beavers were once an important part of the natural environment but became extinct on mainland Britain during the 16th century because they were hunted for their fur, meat and scent glands.

The pair we've released at Holnicote have come all the way from wild populations on the River Tay catchment in Scotland, under special licences arranged with Scottish Natural Heritage and Natural England. Beavers can only be found in a handful of places across the country and this is the first time we've released the animals into a river enclosure.

A beaver swimming

Settling into their new homes

Early signs in April 2020 show that the beavers are adjusting well. Webcam footage shows the beavers feeding and grooming as they settle into their new surroundings. There are plenty of signs of the beavers 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.

Building dams and helping wildlife

We've released the beavers as part of a £13m project to restore the health of rivers, streams, brooks, and becks. The work will focus five key areas: the River Conwy in North Wales, the Derwent in Cumbria, the Upper Bure in Norfolk, the Bollin in Cheshire and Porlock Vale streams in Somerset.

Rangers and tenant farmers on the Holnicote Estate are working to create more space for nature by reconnecting rivers and streams to the surrounding landscape. Not only does this allow more plants and animals to flourish it also helps to guard against severe weather. 

National Trust staff and volunteers, and experts from Exeter University, will monitor the beavers we've released into this area and record the changes they make to the river. 

Ben Eardley, Project Manager for the National Trust at Holnicote says: 'As ecosystem engineers the beavers will develop wetland habitat, increasing complexity and improving the abundance and biodiversity of the area.

“Their presence in our river catchments is a sustainable way to help make our landscape more resilient to climate change and the extremes of weather it will bring.'

Mark Harold, Director of Land and Nature said: 'We need to work with natural processes in the right places. This is a different way of managing sites for wildlife - a new approach, using a native animal as a tool.

'The development of a more natural river system; the slowing, cleaning and storing of water can develop a complex mosaic of habitats which are not only good for nature but for people too.'

" Although we're introducing a species that used to live here in the wild, this project is all around creating our landscapes of the future, helping us respond to the challenges the landscape and communities now face."
- Ben Eardley, Project Manager for the National Trust at Holnicote

Fascinating facts about beavers

  • Beavers are the second-largest living rodent
  • They are herbivores, eating aquatic plants, grasses, herbaceous plants and shrubs in the summer months and woody plants in the winter
  • They will often store food underwater so they can access it if the water freezes over in the winter
  • They can remain underwater for up to 15 minutes
  • They have protective eyelids to see underwater and can close both their nostrils and ears to prevent water from entering
  • Beaver teeth are orange from the iron content in the food they eat

What we're doing about climate change