We are considering reintroducing beavers to Ennerdale, find out more.
(Beaver Image © Wild Intrigue)
Our Proposal - Key Points
Led by the Wild Ennerdale vision to restore missing natural processes, we are considering reintroducing beavers. The Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) is a well-studied species capable of providing biodiversity and economic benefits through its natural activities and offers a unique opportunity for Ennerdale.
Our vision is to see free living beavers reintroduced to the length of the River Ehen, from mountains to sea. As a first step, we propose to host some beaver family groups in the (partially enclosed) upper valley, east of Ennerdale Water. This would start a 3 to 5 year public engagement period during which we would engage with local landowners and communities to share and build up knowledge and experience with beavers living in the landscape. At the end of this period, we would hold a formal consultation to see if the local community supports the vision for beavers to have access to the full length of the River Ehen. As a partnership we want to see beavers having full freedom to explore unhindered and are not proposing a permanent enclosed release.
We have commissioned an independent expert-led ecology feasibility study which was completed in 2020 and reports that the valley would be suitable for a multi-family beaver release.
A licence is required from Natural England to release beavers., Ahead of the licence application, we are spending time engaging publicly with local communities and authorities with the help of Wild Intrigue who bring specialist experience from other beaver sites in the UK. We hope to be in a position to seek formal consultation later in 2021 which will be co-ordinated through a dedicated Citizen Space webpage.
Depending on engagement and licence application outcomes, the timeline for beavers arriving in the upper valley in Ennerdale is Spring 2023. This is subject to change but gives an idea of aspirations. If you have any comments in the meantime, please contact us or join in the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.
More about our Proposal
Beavers would be introduced into the area of the valley east of the Irish Bridge, just upstream from where the River Liza enters Ennerdale Water. We propose that this would be for a limited 3 to 5 year period of public engagement. Subject to a review of learning from this period, our vision long term is that beavers would have freedom to roam the whole River Ehen catchment from under Great Gable west to the coast.
The beavers would have access to the whole of the valley east of Ennerdale Water. Assuming that the beavers might roam up to 50m from existing watercourses this gives them an area of around 200 hectares (495 acres). This is significantly larger than any previous beaver reintroductions in England to date which have been typically around 10 to 20 hectares (25 to 50 acres).
The ecology feasibility study identified three suitable sites for the release of beaver families and suggested that a pair of young beavers could also be released at the same time. The recommended sites are at: Moss Dub, Gillerthwaite Mire and a site west of the Middle Bridge, see Ennerdale Beaver Reintroduction Map. The latter two would need a small amount of work to create some standing water for the beavers to settle into immediately after their release. The young pair could be released higher up the valley away from the family release sites.
We are considering a proposal to reintroduce three beaver families. Each family could comprise of male and female adults along with their dependant young. In addition, we are thinking about releasing a young pair of male and female beavers.
Depending on feedback and licence outcomes, we are hoping for beavers to be introduced to the valley in Spring 2023.
To provide a breadth of genetic diversity, we are considering sourcing beavers from Scotland and possibly Norway. We won't be getting any from central Europe as they may carry a disease which is not present in the UK. Prior to their release, all beavers would undergo robust health screening.
We have given this question a lot of thought. Advice from experts is that the steep and rocky sides of Ennerdale would act as a natural barrier, as beavers seldom stray more than a few tens of metres from a watercourse so there is no chance of them crossing the high mountains that encircle the valley. We would need to install some additional structures including fencing to prevent the beavers leaving the valley and entering the lake. The main structure would be a water gate on the River Liza attached to the existing concrete pipe bridge just east of where it flows into Ennerdale Water. This would be linked to upgraded and new fencing either side.
A trial of the water gate control structure has been ongoing since early 2020. Its function is to contain beavers upstream whilst allowing the movement of gravel downstream (key for Arctic charr spawning) and the migration of Salmon and Charr upstream. Designs have been discussed in partnership with The Environment Agency and Natural England. To date all indications are that this gate will function as desired.
As part of a reintroduction, we would employ a dedicated Project Officer who will be trained and licenced to be able to trap, handle and move beavers. If a beaver were to escape from the enclosed area, they would likely set up new territory in Ennerdale Water which is good habitat. The Project Officer would organise the capture of the beaver which would then be released back into the eastern valley and a review of the infrastructure undertaken.
Beavers are a charismatic species and most active at dusk and dawn. Public access to the area where the beavers are proposed to be released would continue and we propose to provide hides and selfled guides for people to find and watch the beavers themselves. Over time and dependent on how beavers adapt to Ennerdale, we hope to expand engagement opportunities for people with eco-tourism in mind, facilitated by extra staff.
For Nature: The role of beavers as ecosystem engineers is well documented. Although Wild Ennerdale has been operating for nearly 20 years, the riparian and valley bottom habitats within the valley have potential for significant further restoration. We expect beavers to bring significant increased species diversity and abundance through their dynamic wetland creation. Our proposal for a large-scale release of beavers at Ennerdale is an exciting change in direction for beaver reintroductions in England, which have to date been on a smaller, more localised scale. Key outputs for this project would include, but not be limited to, monitoring of changes in biodiversity, behavioural studies, and identifying changes in habitat in relation to different land uses within the valley.
For People: The beavers would be introduced into an Open Access landscape, with people recreating daily along multiple rights of way and waymarked trails. People are likely, in time, to see beavers and their impacts in a free roaming way which is currently not possible on other upland release sites in England. A beaver’s ability to slow the flow of water in storm events will be a demonstrator for flood risk communities in North Cumbria as to how this natural architect can contribute to flood mitigation measures.
Wild Ennerdale has a well-established and recognised approach to including volunteering into its natural process led management. The beaver reintroduction would add further to this offer and provide a new opportunity to include local people in the being part of the valley’s evolving story.
For the Economy: Located in West Cumbria, this project has significant potential to deliver direct economic and employment benefits linking into other regeneration initiatives. There is no-doubt that successfully established beavers will attract tourists to Wild Ennerdale who will need visitor infrastructure in place..
YHA Ennerdale and Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre would be in a prime location to explore ecotourism opportunities within the footprint of existing development. Other local accommodation providers could also benefit and there is currently a gap at the more bespoke luxury end for overnight stays.
The demand for UK-based wildlife watching experiences is increasing, with sites such as the Knepp Estate in West Sussex demonstrating the potential of a nature-based economy. We anticipate that guided beaver watches could join a suite of bookable, low impact wildlife watching experiences at Ennerdale.
All ecotourism development would take place within the guidance of the Wild Ennerdale Stewardship Plan’s principles of management to maintain and protect the valley’s special sense of wildness and tranquillity.
Watch This Space
Over the Summer we hope to share some videos from Ennerdale explaining more about our proposed beaver reintroduction
(Beaver Image © Wild Intrigue)
Beavers are brilliant architects
As aquatic mammals, beavers have evolved to be entirely dependent on water, so their anatomy is perfectly suited to build and maintain wetland habitats.
Chisel like teeth are used to coppice trees, which as well as providing food, provide essential building materials for constructing their dams. Non-webbed forefeet act as dextrous hands, which are used for carrying building materials across land and water, and for digging new connective channels between pools.
Where beavers do not have an existing deep water body, they create their own by damming streams and pooling water to a depth of around 1 meter, often in a dynamic network. These valuable habitats bring huge benefits to a wide range of plants and wildlife. As well as benefiting wildlife, these large, beaver wetlands benefit humans by slowing the flow of water downstream, holding more water back in landscape, and providing a natural filtration service.
Hear what other people have to say about living alongside beavers in the Beaver Trust’s excellent "Beavers without Borders" film.
More about beavers
The Eurasian beaver is Britain’s largest rodent, belonging to the same group as mice and voles. With a flat, paddle-like tail and webbed hindfeet these impressive aquatic mammals are suited to life both on land and in the water. Described as ‘ecosystem engineers’, beavers build dams to create access to deep pools of water, and diversify surrounding vegetation by coppicing deciduous trees for winter food and for building supplies. Beavers are very family-orientated usually living in family groups of six to twelve individuals comprised of an adult pair, kits and yearlings. Living a nocturnal lifestyle, beavers sleep in lodges or burrows throughout the day, and are active between sunrise and sunset.
A mature adult beaver typically grows to a length of 70-100 cm, with a tail length of 30cm – 40cm, and weight between 18-30 kg. Beavers have an average lifespan of 10 to 15 years.
Beavers are herbivores, so follow a completely vegetarian diet. Throughout spring and summer, beavers will eat a variety of herbaceous terrestrial and aquatic plants, flowers and grasses, and even create ‘beaver lawns’ where grass has been neatly grazed. Throughout autumn and winter, they switch to a more woody diet, which leads to increased tree coppicing activity. Through winter, forward-thinking beavers will create a winter larder in their pools, caching small tree branches which they can rely upon if food resources decrease. Contrary to common belief, beavers do not eat fish.
Beavers can carry host-specific parasites not currently present in Britain, though these are not known to infect or harm other species of wildlife, livestock or humans. Other parasites carried by beavers are already present in British wildlife, livestock and humans and these other sources of infection pose a more significant risk to water contamination than beavers. If beavers are released into Ennerdale they will be quarantined and health screened by a specialist vet to ensure they are not infected with any disease.
Yes, there are established populations of beavers in the east and west of Scotland, as well as enclosed trial releases small free-roaming colonies in England.
Beavers were reintroduced to Knapdale, West Scotland, in 2009 through the Scottish Beaver Trial, coordinated by Scottish Wildlife Trust, RZSS and Forestry and Land Scotland. Prior to this, in 2000, an unofficial release of beavers onto the Tay catchment , in East Scotland, was undertaken – and which has now established a strong population of free-living beavers
As of May 2019, the Eurasian beaver became designated as a protected species in Scotland.
In England the largest free roaming population is on the River Otter in Devon. Following a five-year trial period, this population was recently permitted by the UK Government to continue. There are also a number of fenced projects across the country, including in Cornwall, Yorkshire and Essex amongst others. At present, a licence is required for any beaver reintroduction project.
In Cumbria, a pair of beavers were released into an enclosure on the Lowther Estate near Penrith in summer 2020, following the approval of a licence in January 2020. For more information on this project, visit www.cumbriabeavers.org.uk .
If supported and approved, the release of beavers in Ennerdale would be the largest reintroduction in England to date. The scale of the landscape and interactions with faming, forestry, freedom of public access and tourism make Ennerdale a unique upland site.
Beavers can modify the habitats and landscapes they live in through coppicing, feeding and in some cases damming (beavers living on lakes or large rivers have little need of constructing dams). Initially, these changes can markedly alter the appearance of the local environment but all of these modifications have an overall positive effect on biodiversity.
Beaver adaptations can bring enormous benefits to other species, including otters, water shrews, water voles, birds, invertebrates such as dragonflies, and breeding fish. Beavers naturally create and maintain diverse wetland habitats. Their dams can retain water in periods of drought, can regulate flooding and improve water quality by holding silt behind dams and catching acidic and agricultural run-off.
Beavers forage close to water with activity usually concentrated within 20m of the water’s edge. Trees coppiced by beavers often regenerate as shrubs, which helps diversify the surrounding habitat structure. Coppicing has been practiced by foresters throughout history as a method to manage bankside trees, so the woodlands of Ennerdale would be naturally maintained by the chisel-like teeth of beavers.
There are instances when beavers may require the need for intervention by humans, if their activities result in undesirable localised flooding or tree felling. These can be overcome by applying tried and tested methods of mitigation used across Scotland, Europe, North America such as flow devices to control the height of pooled water behind dams, and tree guards or grit paint to protect special trees.
Impacts from burrowing, ie. collapsed banks are unlikely to be an issue at Ennerdale due to the stony nature of the ground limiting this activity.
In general terms, beavers are well-studied as contributing to reducing the risk of flooding lower down in river systems by building dams and moderating water flow. The modifications made by beavers to streams can raise the water table locally, creating wetland areas to the benefit of biodiversity. Evidence from the River Otter beaver trial in Devon, and from beavers in the River Tay in Scotland, show that instances of beaver dams creating undesirable flooding are uncommon, localised and usually small-scale. In these situations dams are simply removed or pipes (‘beaver deceivers’) are placed through them to manage water levels.
Evidence from Europe and the River Otter trial in Devon shows that beaver damage is, in the vast majority of cases, small-scale and localised. Where localised problems occur, there are a number of well-established methods in place. These include the removal of dams, the introduction of overflow piping, or the installation of fencing (as one does for deer and rabbits). Beavers have been known to forage certain crops if located directly beside a waterbody.
Living with Beavers
(thanks to Cornwall Wildlife Trust)
How Beavers prevent Flooding
(thanks to the Wildwood Trust)
River Otter Beaver Trial Results
(thanks to Devon Wildlife Trust)