Should there be beavers in the Brit?
Between 13th and 30th April 2023, we undertook a set of community consultation events across the Brit River Catchment to ask the question above.
These are now completed and over the next 2 months we will process the results. The wider consultation has really only just started, and we will be talking to farmers and landowners individually, but if you want your say, get in touch and/or complete our questionnaire.
We undertook the following meetings:
Thursday 13th April: Red Lion, Beaminster 3pm - 8pm.
Saturday 15th April: Bridport Town Hall 10.30am - 4pm.
Sunday 16th April: Loders Village Hall 3pm - 8pm.
Tuesday 18th April: Broadoak Village Hall 5pm - 8pm.
Friday 21st April: Netherbury Village Hall 3pm - 8pm.
We have/are doing also done a range of beavers enclosure tours, for at least 60 people.
The rest of this page gives you details about beavers. We will publish results of the work and updates on this page.
We need funds to do this work so any contribution made below would be fantastic. Thanks:
Where would the beavers live?
The wider Brit catchment includes the rivers Brit, Symene, Asker and the Mangerton Brook that feeds into the Asker. They also all have tributaries, smaller streams, that feed into these rivers, some of which don't have names.
We currently have work in progress by the University of Exeter looking at which of these areas have suitable habitat for beavers, but initial indications seem to indicate that the animals would be very happy here, with plenty of secluded areas with vegetation like willow, hazel and bramble.
Beavers are unlikely to dam main channels, favouring small tributaries to create safe deep water for themselves and their kits. These dams also slow down the flow of water, which helps prevent flooding downstream, and retains water for drought periods.
A better map will be provided soon. This one is under OpenSteetMap licence.
Although it may seem a rural idyll, West Dorset ’s biodiversity has been hugely depleted over the last 70 years and more. The natural systems that protect us from the effects of flooding, drought and pollution are failing and many animal and plant species are on the brink of disappearing altogether. West Dorset Wilding recognises the importance of a thriving nature and its vital role in helping us to adapt to the impacts of climate change now and in the future.
Enter the Eurasian Beaver.. Proven ‘ecosystem engineers’, beavers have been the subject of much recent research into flood alleviation and ecosystem restoration in the UK, most notably in the Otter Valley in nearby East Devon where there has been a wild release for 10 years now.
Beavers are a native species in the UK, but we wiped them out in the wild over 400 years ago, and their reintroduction is about bringing balance back to nature. They are a ‘keystone species’ which means their behaviour positively affects many aspects of the ecosystem, and they are also now protected by law.
In short, beavers can prevent flooding and drought, improve water quality, increase biodiversity and help prevent climate change by locking up carbon in wetlands. To add to this, the recreational, wellbeing and educational value of having wild beavers in an area is massive.
They were wiped out in the UK and much of Europe some 400 years ago by hunting for their fur and 'castoreum', a secretion which was used for making scents and was also believed to have medicinal properties. Sadly they also suffered from indiscriminate hunting for ‘sport’.
They are nocturnal animals and completely vegetarian, eating pretty much anything green. They love riverside plants and tubers, with a particular favourite being young sallow branches (a type of willow), and the bark of some trees. They don’t eat fish! They have orange iron enriched front teeth which they use to scrape off bark and gnaw their way through bigger trees which they cut down mainly to open up the canopy. The increased light that result stimulates new growth of vegetation in the understory, which of course provides them with food. They don’t tend to eat the dry hard wood when they chop down trees and leave that on the ground in the form of beaver chips – considered lucky by some! They also sharpen their teeth on hard wood.
Their behaviour is all about safety and food – much like all of us! They build dams to raise the water level which then gives them safer access throughout their territory, away from harmful predators - not that the wolf lives in Dorset, but otters and badgers can kill baby beavers, called ‘kits’. They live in ‘lodges’ which are normally dug into the side of riverbanks and accessed below the raised water level, but which have ‘escape’ tunnels into the riverbank above, normally cunningly disguised as a pile of sticks! The tree felling not only allows new plant growth, but allows them to eat the bank and young branches all the way up the branch, and can help with dams.
This text is from an article that is published first in the Marshwood Value magazine. You can see the article in full here on pages 24/25.
What's the problem?
This all seems too good to be true... but there are some perceived downsides to beavers living wild. Since they became extinct we have become used to living without them, and in particular we farm or build building and roads right up to the edges of what would be, and could be their terrain - the rivers.
This means that under certain circumstances, the dams that they make could flood fields, road or houses and the woody debris may lead to culverts being blocked. Moreover, they may decide that they want to eat a favourite tree in a garden or public space.
Whilst we understand that these might be concerning, they are all manageable, either through protecting trees using wire mesh, or removing or altering dams so that the flooding is no longer an issue.
The government has put in place a clear management framework for beavers in the wild, and West Dorset Wilding would look to employ a beaver manager to help people with any problems or concerns they might have, in the same way that Devon Wildlife Trust did for the Otter Valley release.
One thing we can't get away from is that beaver-occupied areas look 'messy', but nature is messy, and with the 'mess' comes a whole lot more life - so perhaps this is something we can put up with?
If you can't attend the drop-ins and are a landowner or farmer with particular interests or concerns, please contact us directly and we will come and see you.
If you want to give us your views through this website, please complete our online questionnaire by clicking this button.
Thank you for your time, we look forward to hearing your views. There are some great resources about beavers out there and we will put them here when we get a minute.
Our thanks for support for these events goes to Natural England. They are held in collaboration with or with additional support from Mapperton Estate, Slape Manor, Dorset Wildlife Trust, Devon Wildlife Trust, National Trust, Dorset AONB Team and The University of Exeter.
You can help us take the next steps in this work by joining the charity or making a donation. Thanks for your time.