The beaver kit pictured in the water, nuzzling against an adult beaver. The photo is black and white and taken at night.

The kit is thought to be about six weeks old, and has been spotted on camera already swimming around the pond ©National Trust

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First baby beavers born on Exmoor for 400 years

For the first time in over four centuries, beavers have bred on Exmoor, southwest England.

The beaver was born to a family that has been reintroduced to a 2.7 hectare (6.7 acre) enclosure on Holnicote Estate, which is managed by the National Trust

A pair of beavers were reintroduced to the Holnicote Estate in a bid to restore a complex mix of wetlands, forests and ponds that would have once been present.  

Now after just 18 months the beavers have started their own family, with the six-week-old kit having been spotted on the remote camera set up in the enclosure to monitor the animals.

Jack Siviter, one of the rangers on the Holnicote estate says, 'We first had an inkling that our pair of beavers had mated successfully when the male started being a lot more active building and dragging wood and vegetation around the site in late spring. The female also changed her usual habits, and stayed out of sight, leaving the male to work alone.

'It was then several weeks until we spotted her again, and this is when our suspicions were confirmed that she had given birth, due to having very visible teats.

'The family should now stay together for the next two years before the kit will naturally want to go off to create a new territory of its own.'

Black and white camera image showing an adult beaver in the water with the smaller kit.

The pair of beavers have been on the estate for 18 months, with the new kit showing that they have already settled in to their new homw ©National Trust

Rewetting the countryside

Beavers were hunted to extinction in the UK around 400 years ago, as they were targeted for their meat, fur and scent glands.

But the past decade or so has seen a real push by conservation organisations to return the animals to the UK countryside. There are now over 200 beavers living wild in Scotland, while multiple wildlife organisations have or are planning on releasing animals into enclosures across England, Wales and Scotland.

The large rodents are being reintroduced due to the vital role they play in creating and maintaining a patch-work of habitats, including wetlands, ponds and flooded forests. These are good not only in increasing the overall biodiversity of an area, but also in helping to manage potential flooding by storing large amounts of water in the wetlands they create. 

A beaver sat on its back legs, looking directly at the camera. It is surrounded by a lush, green flooded forest.

The beavers have already transformed the site in which they have been released, building dams, channels and ponds ©Nick Upton & National Trust Images

Even over the relatively short 18 months that the pair of beavers have been at Holnicote, there has been an astonishing change in the environment.   

Ben Eardley, Project Manager for the National Trust at Holnicote, explains, 'The transformation of the habitat has been remarkable. To go from dry unmanaged woodland to a more open wetland complex in such a short time has not only boosted the variety of wildlife that we're seeing on the estate, but also numbers.

'This is really important because the beaver are doing a lot of what we want to see in terms of conservation and land management. They are letting the light and the water into the site, helping natural processes and providing opportunities for a host of other wildlife.'

While these beavers are in an enclosure, a consultation looking at how to manage beavers in the wild in England is expected to take place later this year.