Beaver reintroduction in the South Downs
We've released a pair of beavers into a sheltered valley at the edge of the South Downs as part of our efforts to restore nature. The beavers will help us create a wildlife-rich wetland landscape. It’s the first re-introduction by the National Trust in south-east England. While the animals settle in, we’re asking people not to go to the site, to give them the best possible chance of establishing themselves.
In spring 2021 we released two beavers on the edge of the South Downs into a 15-hectare fenced area. A male and female were re-introduced, in the hope they will become a breeding pair. We are not disclosing the exact location to give them very best chance of establishing themselves in their new home.
The release is part of the National Trust’s strategy to restore a healthier natural environment and to improve 25,000 hectares (an area the size of 47,000 football pitches) of land for wildlife by 2025.
Having once been an important part of the ecosystem, beavers became extinct in Britain in the 16th century because of hunting for their fur, meat and scent glands. This release follows a successful pilot at Holnicote on Exmoor in early 2020, where the beavers have thrived.
Nature’s water engineers
‘Beavers are nature’s water engineers and create remarkable wetland habitats that benefit a host of species.’
- David Elliott, Lead Ranger
David Elliott said: ‘By building their dams, the beavers will create new and wildlife-rich wetlands; ponds, rivulets and boggy areas that will, over the next few years, benefit a range of wildlife including amphibians such as frogs and toads, many dragonflies and damselflies and wildflowers such as marsh orchids that love damp meadows.
‘They’ll help us create a pyramid of life based on wetlands – including bird and bat species as their prey increases in abundance.’
Where have the beavers come from?
The beavers were relocated from wild populations in Scotland, under licence from NatureScot, by consultant ecologist Dr Roisin Campbell-Palmer. Health screening and pre-release care has been provided by Five Sisters Zoo in West Lothian.
A growing number of sites in the British Isles have reintroduced beavers. The National Trust’s South Downs programme will be carefully monitored for its benefits: from water quality and floodwater management to ecology and vegetation changes, by research partners at Imperial College London, the University of Birmingham and the University of Exeter.
Local support for the South Downs
The project has been funded in part by the Black Down and Hindhead Supporters of the National Trust, who fundraised some £62,000, thanks to the generosity of local supporters, and a grant of £68,866 from Viridor Credits Environmental Company.
Bob Daniels, chair of the Black Down and Hindhead Supporters, said: ‘The project is a great example of the things we can do locally to positively influence species decline, in a world where the opposite is an alarmingly prominent feature of global headlines.’
The valley where the beavers have been released was gifted to the National Trust in the 1990s through public subscription, when local residents fundraised to buy it for the nation. It is close to the 19th-century home of Sir Robert Hunter, one of the three original founders of the National Trust.
A haven for wildlife
The beavers will continue the work started in July 2018 by the countryside team by helping to turn the valley into a haven for wildlife. To date interventions have included changing the pattern of grazing – to a lower intensity over a wider area – with a small herd of Long Horn cattle.
The results are already starting to show, with a complex mosaic of habitats developing in the grasslands. Walking there last summer, Lead Ranger David Elliott recalled: ‘The landscape has already become absolutely alive with butterflies – marbled whites, common blues and meadow browns – in numbers you rarely see. Scrub is starting to appear on the margins of the fields, with oaks growing amongst them, often from acorns which have been planted by the jays as food stores for the winter.’
Jane Cecil, National Trust General Manager for the South Downs, said: ‘As a conservation charity it’s vital that we can demonstrate how we both protect and enhance the environment. These precious places in the South Downs have been entrusted to us, to share them with people and to do the very best for nature and wildlife.’
Support our work
Find out how you can support future conservation projects in the South Downs. All donations will be gratefully received and will help us create outstanding habitats for wildlife.
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