Beavers build first Exmoor dam in over 400 years after rewilding scheme

30 November 2020, 11:33

Beavers have constructed the first dam on Exmoor in over 400 years
Beavers have constructed the first dam on Exmoor in over 400 years. Picture: PA Images

Beavers have built their first dam in Exmoor for over 400 years after months of being reintroduced to the area.

The semi-aquatic rodents - the first to be released by the National Trust in its 125-year history - constructed their dam at the Holnicote Estate near Minehead.

Footage from wildlife cameras shows the animals gnawing nearby trees and collecting vegetation to create a dam across small channels that run through the Somerset estate.

Rangers described the beavers as "ecosystem engineers" after the successful project meant they were able to create an "instant wetland" just nine months after they were introduced to slow the flow of water.

Their construction allows for deep pools of water which offer animals shelter from predators and a place to store food - turning the surrounding land into a mosaic of nature-rich habitats.

Beavers built the dam on Exmoor after just nine months of reintroduction
Beavers built the dam on Exmoor after just nine months of reintroduction. Picture: PA Images

Beaver dams, ponds and channels also help nearby towns by preventing flooding through slowing, storing and filtering water as it flows downstream.

Project manager at the National Trust Ben Eardley said: "It might look modest, but this beaver dam is incredibly special - it's the first to appear on Exmoor for almost half a millennium and marks a step-change in how we manage the landscape.

"What's amazing is that it's only been here a few weeks but has created an instant wetland.

"We've already spotted kingfishers at the site, and over time, as the beavers extend their network of dams and pools, we should see increased opportunities for other wildlife, including amphibians, insects, bats and birds."

Beavers were made extinct in the 16th century by excessive hunting for their meat, fur and scent glands, but since the early 2000s they have been reintroduced at a handful of sites across the country.

Eurasian beavers were reintroduced in England in 2009
Eurasian beavers were reintroduced in England in 2009. Picture: PA Images

Nature group Rewilding Britain said a huge increase in restoring and connecting habitats is needed to help save wildlife forced to move because of climate change, adding that reintroducing beavers is key to helping with this.

The project is part of the trust's Riverlands programme which aims to revive UK rivers by boosting wildlife, water quality, community engagement and tackling the effects of climate change.

A separate five-year trial on the River Otter in Devon was also recently hailed a success by the Government which is now considering a national strategy for the reintroduction of beavers.

They settled into a specially-built 2.7-acre enclosure on the estate in January and have been monitored by National Trust and Exeter University staff and volunteers since.