European beaver Castor fiber, adult eating on bankside medow, Blairgowrie, Perthshire

Beaver reintroduction in the UK

We are currently working with other organisations to develop our technical expertise and assess the suitability of various river systems to support beavers.

The return of the beaver

Beavers are native to the UK and used to be widespread in England, Wales and Scotland.

They became extinct in the 16th century, mainly because of hunting for their fur, meat and 'castoreum', a secretion used in perfumes, food and medicine.

We support the re-establishment of beavers where they used to occur in the UK. The beaver is known as a 'keystone species' because of its significant positive influence on its environment. We endorse their reintroduction through well-planned and licensed releases. 

We are currently working with other organisations to develop our technical expertise and assess the suitability of various river systems to support beavers. 

Gnawed tree showing European beaver Castor fiber teeth marks, Blairgowrie, Perthshire

What plans are there to reintroduce beavers?

In Scotland, a licensed trial reintroduction of four families to Argyll has been successful and a large and expanding (unlicensed) population has inhabited the Tay catchment for more than a decade.  

In November 2016 Scottish Government announced that beavers are to remain in Scotland as a protected species but with an active management programme and that further releases will require a licence. RSPB publically welcomed this announcement.

In England, there is a small population of beavers on the River Otter in Devon, from either an unlicensed or accidental release. We supported the Devon Wildlife Trust's successful application to Natural England for this to become a licensed English trial reintroduction. 

The Trust is now working to meet the licence terms and conditions. The beavers are confirmed as disease-free Eurasian beavers and, with the agreement of local landowners, they have been returned to the wild. We continue to support this initiative. 

We do not endorse the unlicensed translocation of beavers.

In Wales there is support for a small-scale, unfenced reintroduction which is being developed by the Wildlife Trusts in Wales.

European beaver Castor fiber, adult nibbling willow leaves, Blairgowrie, Perthshire

Why should we reintroduce beavers?

Beavers have a positive effect on their environment through their behaviour. 

By gnawing on stems they 'coppice' trees like willow, hazel, rowan and aspen. The regrowth provides homes for a variety of insects and birds. 

The wetlands in which beavers live are valuable for many other species too. Animals like otters, water voles, water shrews and wildfowl such as teals all benefit. Craneflies, water beetles and dragonflies in turn support breeding fish and insect-eating birds like spotted flycatchers. 

There is a legal requirement to consider restoring beavers to their former range under the EU Habitats Directive and to protect them under the Bern Convention.

There have been more than 200 formal beaver reintroduction projects (plus numerous unofficial releases) in more than 26 European countries and their ecology and management is well-studied.

European beaver Castor fiber, adult foraging in grass, Blairgowrie, Perthshire

Beaver behaviour

Do beavers build dams?

Beavers are well-known for their habit of damming streams, but if the water is deep enough, they have little need for dams.

Beavers construct homes called 'lodges'. They need water at least a metre deep outside their lodges so they can swim in, providing protection against predators. They prefer to swim, rather than walk and like to transport branches through water, so will make narrow canals to enable this. The dam creates water deep enough for them to swim in.

Beaver dams are temporary structures and generally quite leaky. By building new dams in different places, the beavers bring a changeable mixture of habitats into the landscape, with streams, pools and bare mud. 

Beaver dams also hold water in dry periods, help to lessen flash-flooding downstream and reduce erosion, improve water quality by holding silt and catch acidic and agricultural run-off.

Beavers can have both positive and negative effects on migratory fish like trout and salmon, but this varies according to conditions and requires further study.

What do beavers eat?

Beavers eat only plants and do not eat fish. They feed on aquatic plants, grasses, herbaceous plants and shrubs during the summer months and woody plants in winter. They will often store food underwater so that they can access it if the water freezes over in winter. 

What is the RSPB doing to help?

  • We have been building up our technical expertise through study tours in Europe and by working with beaver experts in the UK. The RSPB is a member of the Beaver Advisory Committee for England (BACE).
  • As a member of the National Species Reintroduction Forum (NSRF) in Scotland, we have responded to consultations by SNH on various scenarios for the future of beavers in Scotland and have publicised our support for further reintroductions.
  • We have publically welcomed the announcement by Scottish Government that beavers are to remain in Scotland as a protected species but with an active management programme and that further releases will require a licence.
  • We have assessed the suitability of several of our reserves in Scotland and England to support beavers and are assessing potential impacts on the local area.
  • We will be taking a careful look as the details of the management scheme become known and working with partners and other stakeholders to develop our plans for further reintroductions.
  • We supported Devon Wildlife Trust in their application for a licence to return the River Otter beavers, (having been confirmed as disease-free Eurasian beavers and with the agreement of local landowners), and study them as an English Beaver Reintroduction Trial, and we continue to offer assistance to this work.

What happens if beavers come into conflict with humans?

Through their activities, there is the potential for beavers to come into conflict with land management, flood defence and fisheries interests. 

Many of these problems can be managed using techniques which are well-tried and tested throughout Europe. These can be very effective in reducing localised flooding, protecting individual trees or woodland and preventing burrowing into banks. Beaver management guidelines are to be published as part of the current work in Scotland.

There will be situations where these techniques are not enough and beavers may have to be relocated. We support this, so long as it is properly regulated and within a legal framework (with beavers designated as European Protected Species under the relevant country's Habitats Regulations). 

Management decisions must take into account the conservation status of the beavers, as well as the perceived problems they are said to be causing. Many reintroduced beaver populations in mainland Europe continue to thrive under such managed conditions. 

European beaver Castor fiber, adult foraging in grass, Blairgowrie, Perthshire

How you can help

Family walking on the beach during mud dipping event, Ribble Estuary

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