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The last known British beaver died in Yorkshire in 1789, now they showed up again

In the county of Sussex beavers have been born for the first time in 500 years. The young beavers came into the world at a wildlife project at Knepp Castle Estate in West Grinstead, near Horsham. The project’s staff is very excited and refer to the births as a milestone for Knepp and Sussex.

Two adult beavers, Brooke and Banksy, were transferred from Scotland to Knepp Wilding last year. Employees recently noticed that the pair was dragging fresh shoots to their lodge. In a Facebook post, they stated:

“Signs, we hoped, that they were nurturing offspring.”

The youngsters, described as ‘almost adult,’ were captured on camera while playing in one of the ponds created by their parents. Ecologist at the project, Penny Green, describes the beavers as ‘ecosystem engineers.’ Through their recent activities in building dams, they have created habitats for other wildlife, leading to the revival of species like kingfishers, dragonflies, and reed warblers. Penny Green said:

“We’re thrilled. It’s just amazing to know that beavers have successfully reproduced here, and for the first time in 500 years in Sussex, we can say that.”

Beavers are importance for biodiversity

Experts at Knepp state that research shows beavers are of vital importance for biodiversity. Their coppicing of trees along riverbanks, both for food and for building dams, allows sunlight to penetrate, stimulating the growth of green, oxygen-producing aquatic plants. Wood debris dragged into the water by beavers fosters the growth of microorganisms that fuel populations of vertebrate animals, which in turn provide food for fish and waterfowl. A spokesperson from Knepp says:

“As hydrological engineers, beavers are also incredibly effective at creating water systems that purify, store, and guard against devastating floods. Much of the work we’ve done at Knepp to restore watercourses, including bringing back our stretch of the River Adur to its floodplain, could have been achieved more efficiently and at less cost by a family of beavers. We’ve been campaigning for years for greater appreciation of this vital species and hope it won’t be much longer before we see free-living beavers throughout the UK, supported by a reliable management plan to facilitate their return and promptly address any issues they might pose for farmers and land managers.”

Beavers are native species in Great Britain, but these animals went extinct in the 16th century due to being hunted for their meat and fur. This primarily occurred during the reign of King Henry VIII. The animals were killed for their fur and a secretion from their scent glands that was used in making perfumes and medicines. The last known British beaver was killed in Yorkshire in 1789.

In 2020, as part of a trial in a semi-enclosed area, a pair of beavers were released. However, both escaped within a few weeks. The male, named Bramber, was spotted on the River Adur and was eventually captured on an organic farm. The female, Billie, escaped to a fishing pond and was also captured there. Unfortunately, Bramber died on the night of his capture, and tests revealed that he succumbed to a virus. Billie now resides with a partner in an enclosure on National Trust land.

Beavers have also been reintroduced to other parts of the United Kingdom through similar reintroduction projects.

Mary Johnson

Mary Johnson is a native of Leeds, journalist and PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow. She is mainly interested in foreign affairs, geopolitics and investigative journalism.

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