The remarkable story of Devon’s wild beavers goes on with the announcement that the Westcountry rodents have now won a top national award.
Readers of BBC Countryfile Magazine have selected the River Otter Beaver Trial based in East Devon, along with the Scottish Beaver Trial, as their ‘Wildlife Success Story of the Year’ for 2017. The public poll attracted 56,000 votes across its 12 award categories.
The accolade is recognition of the work being done with the East Devon beavers by the charity Devon Wildlife Trust. The beavers are the first wild population of the animals to exist in England for 400 years. Devon Wildlife Trust leads the River Otter Beaver Trial in partnership with Clinton Devon Estates, University of Exeter and the Derek Gow Partnership.
Devon Wildlife Trust’s Mark Elliott manages the River Otter Beaver Trial and said:
“We’re delighted to have won this prestigious BBC Countryfile Magazine Award. The fact that thousands of members of the public have taken the time to vote for beavers in Devon and in Scotland shows the wide support these charismatic creatures enjoy.”
A breeding population of beavers was first discovered on the River Otter in 2014. No one knows how the beavers came to be living wild in East Devon. In 2015 Devon Wildlife Trust was granted a five-year licence from Natural England. This allowed the beavers to remain after they were initially threatened with removal. The licence also allowed the charity to establish a project which will monitor the beavers until 2020 when a decision about their long term future is to be made by the government.
Devon Wildlife Trust’s Mark Elliott added:
“The BBC Countryfile Award stands as a tribute to the strong partnership we’ve established to conduct the trial. Our research is now beginning to show the important role that beavers could play across our wider countryside in improving water quality, mitigating against the worst effects of flooding and drought, and in benefiting other wildlife. The trial has a long way to go, but this is a very public endorsement of the work we’ve done with beavers here in Devon and of the trial that has already been carried out in Scotland.”
News that Devon’s beavers were in the running for the BBC Wildlife Magazine Awards was announced in February. Nominations were made by a panel of judges which included the author Bill Bryson, along with broadcasters John Craven and Anita Rani. Other nominated projects in the same award category included conservation work done with dormice, cirl buntings, bumblebees and bitterns.
Prof Richard Brazier, University of Exeter, project partner and Chair of the River Otter Beaver Trial’s Science and Evidence Forum welcomed the public recognition:
"Undertaking research into the impacts of beavers is a challenging yet highly rewarding field of study, made all the more fascinating via the genuine partnership approach that Devon Wildlife Trust is leading and the huge interest in this keystone species shown by the general public."
Dr Sam Bridgewater, Conservation Manager for Clinton Devon Estates, said:
“There was a lot of stiff competition. The award is testament to the hard work of all the partners involved. Clinton Devon Estates recognises that the beavers can have great benefits for wildlife and society and this award is affirmation that these benefits are being recognised nationally. We are very grateful to everyone who has voted for this project.”
Devon-based mammal expert and project partner Derek Gow said:
“I am over the moon that the Devon Beaver Trial has been given this recognition. I have worked with this magnificent species for 22 years. It is just brilliant that BBC Countryfile Magazine have recognised the importance of beavers in the presentation of this award.”
Chairman of Natural England, Andrew Sells, said:
“I would like to add my congratulations to Devon Wildlife Trust for their work on this programme. Their careful planning and monitoring of England’s first wild population of beavers for 400 years continues to provide us with important evidence on any impacts which a potential reintroduction might have. This is an exciting time for conservation and their award success is a clear indication that many people are very supportive of this scheme.”
It is thought that around 20 beavers now live on the River Otter which winds its way through 20 miles of East Devon countryside. Last year one breeding pair of the rodents established themselves on land owned by Clinton Devon Estates close to the village of Otterton. Throughout the summer the adults along with their five offspring, known as kits, were seen most evenings. The family drew hundreds of visitors to the area.
The River Otter Beaver Trial receives no government funding. People can learn more about its work help and give their support via www.devonwildlifetrust.org/make-a-donation