You better bel-eaver it!

Project to reintroduce beavers in Enfield revealed, reports James Cracknell

A Eurasian beaver photographed elsewhere in the UK (credit David Parkyn)
A Eurasian beaver photographed elsewhere in the UK (credit The Wildlife Trusts)

Beavers could be reintroduced to Enfield – 400 years after they went extinct in the UK.

The semiaquatic rodents have been making a comeback around the country in recent years, with small populations now thriving in rural locations. But the idea of bringing them back to London is now also being explored, with Enfield set to be a frontrunner because of its large swathes of Green Belt land and many different streams.

Enfield Council has earmarked £40,000 of external funding to spend on drawing up its plans for a beaver reintroduction trial in the borough. It has not confirmed where this would happen, but the director of conservation at London Wildlife Trust says the north-west of the borough – a former royal hunting ground known as Enfield Chase – is one of only two or three viable locations across all 32 boroughs of the capital.

Mathew Frith told the Dispatch: “When you look at London and its river catchments, there’s not many places where beavers could actually flourish. The north-west of Enfield is one of the places it might work, but only if all the right elements came together.

“I expect the £40,000 will be spent on preparing a large paddock and putting substantial fencing in place. It is important to take a precautionary approach and not raise expectations.”

In Devon, wild beavers are now roaming freely, but Mathew said that in London it was unlikely you could reintroduce beavers without fencing them in.

“I think what is being proposed in Enfield is a kind of captive scenario. For them to be wild you’d struggle to find somewhere where they wouldn’t interact with dogs or cars.

“We are trying to get on top of the science and what beavers mean for flood management and river siltation. We would be supportive of measures which take a precautionary approach – but it has to be thoroughly tested and measured.”

Mathew said London Wildlife Trust had not yet been contacted by the council but said he was willing to lend the organisation’s conservation expertise to help with the project. “The way this will become successful is through information sharing and discussion, to ensure mistakes aren’t made,” he added.

Beavers are known as ‘bio-engineers’ and are valued for the role they play in managing water habitats. A council spokesperson said: “Enfield Council is in the early stages of examining with local partners and Natural England the feasibility of a beaver reintroduction trial.

“At present beavers can only be released into secure enclosures in this country. This option is being explored, however there is no specific programme or timescale at this point.

“By damming small streams and creating ponds beavers can help to reduce flood risk in urban areas further down the catchment area. They are considered a ‘keystone species’ due to their ability to create diverse habitat for other creatures, which help support the whole ecosystem.”

Eurasian beavers are native to the UK but were hunted to extinction in the late middle ages.