A Eurasian beaver in water near a riverbank

Eurasian beavers have been reintroduced in the UK over the past two decades. Image © Rocchas/Shutterstock

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Beavers reintroduced to London after 400 years

The UK's capital city has seen the return of the Eurasian beaver after 400 years of absence.

The reintroduction is another step forward for campaigns to return the aquatic rodent to the country, with a consultation on releasing them into the wild set to take place. 

Beavers have returned to London for the first time in over four centuries.

A male and a female were introduced to Forty Hall Farm in Enfield in the north of the city as part of a collaboration between the borough council and Capel Manor College. It is hoped the beavers will help restore biodiversity, as well as mitigate the impacts of flooding, in the local area.

Dr Roisin Campbell-Palmer, beaver restoration lead at the Beaver Trust charity, says, 'We're delighted to be returning beavers to live in such close proximity to this urban area, working with an extended veterinary team to ensure highest welfare for the animals. 

'We've seen from Europe and parts of Scotland how adaptive a species beavers are given some water and enough forage. We'll continue to work with the team to monitor their progress and all being well, we may even see offspring in 2023.'

While the beavers in Enfield are being kept in an enclosure covering 60,000 square metres, roughly the same area as Windsor Castle, there are growing calls for the animals to be officially released into the wild to begin reintegrating with the nation's ecosystems. 


What is the history of beavers in the UK?

Beavers are a type of rodent, who are most closely related to the kangaroo mice and the gophers. Since evolving around 33 million years ago, there have been many different species in the beaver family, but only two are alive today.

The species living in Europe is Castor fiber, or the Eurasian beaver. Once widespread, it was hunted to near extinction as a result of demand for its fur, meat and a glandular secretion known as castoreum which was used to make perfume. 

By 1900, it was estimated that only 1,200 survived across Europe and Asia, with the species completely extirpated in the UK. However, over the following century, beavers began to be reintroduced across Europe, with Sweden, Germany and Austria leading the way.

The UK was comparatively slower to reintroduce beavers, with the first official reintroduction taking place in Kent in 2002. Since then, many approved animals have been released into enclosures across the country, but there have also been unlicensed releases into the wild dating back at least 20 years.

While these unlicensed releases broke the law, the animals have generally been allowed to remain, with the Scottish Government granting all beavers protected status in 2019. The reintroduction to Enfield is the first in London, with the possibility for more to come.

The pair of Enfield beavers are as of yet unnamed, with the council set to run a public poll to name the borough's newest residents. A beaver camera is also due to be set up so that members of the public can watch them in their enclosure.

In future, it is possible that these beavers may be released into the environment, but there are many hurdles in the way before a licensed release can be approved. 

A signal crayfish on a mossy rock in the Midlands

Signal crayfish are an invasive species which cannot be legally introduced into the UK. Image © Erni/Shutterstock

What steps are needed to reintroduce species legally to the UK?

The reintroduction of species in England is regulated by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Natural England, with other UK nations having different policies. To bring back a species, a specific code must be followed to ensure it is right for the animal and the environment.

Firstly, a species can't be one that is deemed to be invasive or destructive, such as signal crayfish, muskrats and Himalayan balsam, all of which have had damaging impacts on the UK's ecosystems. Species that have never been native to Great Britain are also generally prohibited, unless a 'clear conservation benefit' can be demonstrated.

After this, a license is then needed for certain protected and controlled species listed in Schedule Nine of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, like barn owls and red-necked wallabies, as well as any other species that isn't ordinarily resident or a regular visitor in the wild in Great Britain. Introducing any of these animals without a license is illegal.

If these steps are satisfied, then a number of other measures are also required. These include individuals needing to identify their conservation goals and the feasibility of reintroducing a species, as well as getting permission from the relevant landowners and official bodies to go ahead with the release. The full code is available on Natural England's website.

Reintroduction projects should also take the opinions and comments to local stakeholders on board to help develop their plans, while ensuring that the project helps maximise the benefits to biodiversity following the reintroduction. Following the completion of all steps in the code, and with appropriate permissions and licenses, a reintroduction may then be possible.

At the moment, Eurasian beavers are currently prohibited from being reintroduced legally into the wild. This is because Defra is planning a consultation on how to manage these animals in the wild, as well as a national approach for beaver releases, which could see a change in how these rodent reintroductions take place.

Until then, releases into enclosures are the only way to bring back the beaver across England and Wales. In time, these animals may prove a key ally in restoring our ecosystems, and tackling climate change.