River Otter in Devon - Beavers
Beavers can be seen once again, living wild in the UK. This is fantastic news for the cleanliness of our rivers. Despite rumours spread about their impacts on fish the beavers return is fantastic for the health of the river. Furthermore, beaver dams often make great nursaries for fish fry.
The UK is missing much of its wildlife, that once lived here. Humans have gradually eliminated much of the mammals that we once shared this country with. In particular, in England we have lost almost all large wilderness ecosystems, which makes it hard to reintroduce mammals we pushed to local extinction.
However, beavers are an exception. Being water mammals, they live in rivers – places that we cant grow crops anyway.
People have argued that they would dam large numbers of rivers, and flood vast landscapes, making it impossible for fish to migrate up stream (bizarrely forgetting that beavers and fish have coexisted in the UK and the rest of Europe for millions of years). However in Europe, one of the most useful things that Beavers do, is reduce the height of flooding, and largely eliminate flash flooding. Indeed, a village in Wales that had been flooded for three years in a row, set aside 10 acres above the village and introduced a family of beaver, and there have been no floods since then.
Back in 2008 a family of beavers appeared on the River Otter. The government immediately said that they needed testing for diseases, but would not be allowed to return regardless of the outcome. The village complained, and eventually the beavers were given five years of living on the River Otter, during which time a study would be carried out.
Initially, there was concern we did not know the origin of these beavers. Genetic analysis showed that they were European beavers, and a health check showed them to be clear of illnesses that can afflict them.
As expected, the beavers were highly beneficial. They have thrived on the river, and now around 30 lives in the original stretch of river, there are now thought to be between 300 and 500 living wild in Devon and this number is only increasing. They have increased biodiversity, slowed river flow and improved water quality. Recently they were given the right to remain permanently by the British government. Given the space, beavers will likely return to all parts of the UK in the next few decades.
Beavers are wonderful animals to watch. As environmental engineers they change the river and surrounding area, and these changes are often highly beneficial for other animals. In Europe, beaver pools are often very good for fish nurseries, as well as being highly popular for both water voles and otters.
The beavers on the River Otter are no different. I recently spent some time with my family on this river watching the beavers.
As with any wildlife trip, I had done extensive research so knew roughly where to look. However we found it surprisingly easy to find them.
Beavers make a fantastic introduction to wildlife watching for small children. This is because they are reasonably predictable, most active in the early morning and early evening.
Also, given their security of being safe in the water you can sit or stand on one bank and watch them on the opposite bank, and they will happily get on with their own lives.
My children are six and eight and in a weekend we saw the beavers perhaps six times for a total of around an hour. Their excitement was wonderful to see
A walk along the bank of the River Otter may well lead to a sighting. However if you are in the right place, you are highly likely to see them.
Below are a series of links for you to use on your visit. These should help you find a place to stay nearby.
I will put together some brief information about where we have encountered beavers, and where we found the dams. The cost will be £10, though if you book accomodation through one of the links below it will be reduced to £5.
The area where the beavers live is covered in villages. Generally these are small so staying anywhere in the area is good. The maps hows all booking.com listed places, or indeed use the blue enclosed search link.
Places within Ottery St Mary
This is a rural area, so hotels are not exactly where the beavers live. However, beavers have spread throughout the river otter valley, and there are now thought to be around 30. Use the above link to access rest of the hotels in the area, and the map below to see what is available