First for London as beavers released in Enfield

Eurasian beavers went extinct in Britain 400 years ago but are now making a comeback, reports James Cracknell

A small stream flows through the enclosure which the beavers will be able to dam and create ponds
A small stream flows through the enclosure which the beavers will be able to dam and create ponds

A pair of Eurasian beavers have been released at Forty Hall Farm – becoming the first to be introduced to London since the species went extinct in Britain in the 16th Century.

The male and female were set free inside a six-hectare woodland enclosure that has been specially created for them, along a tributary of Turkey Brook. The male has been transported from Yorkshire while the female has come from Scotland.

A Twitter poll being run by Enfield Council will decide what the pair should be called, with “Justin and Sigourney Beaver” currently the favourite. It is hoped they will now mate and produce beaver kits.

Beavers have been making a comeback in the UK over the last decade, with a population of several hundred now roaming Scotland’s rivers and streams, with smaller groups dotted around England and Wales. The idea of introducing them within London was conceived a couple of years ago, with Enfield leading the way as a location thanks to the borough’s extensive Green Belt land.

The beaver reintroduction project has been the result of a collaboration between Enfield Council and Capel Manor College, which runs Forty Hall Farm, with the help of experts at Beaver Trust. Before it could go ahead, a licence had to be granted by the government.

Beaver in Enfield
The male beaver takes a dip

After the beavers had been successfully released at the enclosure at Forty Hall Farm, Beaver Trust’s restoration manager Roisin Campbell-Palmer told the Dispatch: “These are two very healthy animals and there is no reason why they won’t do very well here.

“From a flood mitigation and biodiversity point of view, they will really benefit this area.”

Beavers are well regarded by wildlife conservationists for their pivotal role in habitat restoration. By damming streams they slow down the flow and create new freshwater habitats where invertebrates and amphibians can thrive, while simultaneously reducing flood risk downstream.

Explaining the choice of location for the beavers, Roisin said: “It is a complex, mature woodland with water running through it and that is ideal.

“Beavers can live everywhere from tundra to city centres. As long as there is enough water, they can make their dam structures and it creates these large ponds.

“When we come back to this area in two years’ time it will be much wetter, the tree canopy will be opened up, and we will get more amphibians and invertebrates and more species will be thriving.”

Although they are nocturnal creatures, Roisin said the beavers can sometimes be seen on summer nights at dusk, usually splashing around in their ponds. No-one will be permitted to enter their enclosure, however there will be cameras set up that people can watch online.

The media watch on as the female beaver leavers her cage
The media watch on as the female beaver prepares to leave her cage

Forty Hall Farm manager Angelika Hauses described the release of the two beavers as “magical” and added: “I found it quite beautiful to see them, the way they swim so gracefully.

“This woodland has been fairly empty [of wildlife] but now the beavers are going to use this wood to build a home and they will attract other creatures here as well.”

Council leader Nesil Caliskan also witnessed the beaver reintroduction and said: “It is an idea that [deputy leader] Ian Barnes has championed for a long time. We are very lucky to have Capel Manor, who have always got their fingers on the pulse, and everyone was on board with the idea, so then it was just about making it happen.

“We wanted the enclosure to be in keeping with Forty Hall and we took expert advice on it. We really wanted to drive it forward. The fact London hadn’t had beavers for 400 years, we thought this was the right place for it.”

Cllr Caliskan hopes the beavers will become something of a tourist attraction for nature lovers in the city. “We know already from the reaction we have had that people will travel to Forty Hall to see these beavers. Forty Hall has always been an asset for the borough and we feel lucky to have these spaces.”

The female beaver sets foot in Enfield for the first time
The female beaver sets foot in her new home for the first time

Cllr Barnes said the beaver reintroduction project formed part of the council’s climate strategy and said: “This is a truly humbling event to see these wonderful creatures back in the borough. Enfield Council is creating wilder, more natural spaces to enable biodiversity to thrive as part of our ongoing climate action strategy.

“Also, by exploring natural flood management techniques, we can reduce the risk of harm from flooding following extreme rainfall, protecting hundreds if not thousands of local homes.”

Capel Manor College will now be involved in monitoring the progress of the beavers. Principal Malcolm Goodwin said: “We are delighted to be working with the leaders and water engineers in Enfield Council on this exciting, innovative and important project.

“We know how vital nature and biodiversity is for the health of the countryside and the wellbeing of the good people of Enfield. Our students know this too and they will have the opportunity to protect, monitor and understand the beavers and how they interact with their habitat and the local ecosystems. This is especially important as they will graduate to become custodians of the natural environment we all share.”

The council says it is now also considering the reintroduction of other rare species in Enfield, including goshawks.

Watch the moment the first beaver was released at Forty Hall Farm on the Dispatch Twitter page.