Following the success of a project to reintroduce beavers to the county in 2017, Cornwall Wildlife Trust are working on an exciting project to see the loveable rodents return to the wild by next year

In April 2023, Cornwall Wildlife Trust and St. Eval announced an exciting new partnership to begin the process of reintroducing wild beavers to Helman Tor Nature Reserve. Following the success of the Cornwall Beaver Project, which introduced adult beavers into an enclosed environment in 2017, this wild beaver release is the first of its kind in Cornwall. Originally a native UK species, beavers were hunted to extinction over 400 years ago. By reintroducing them to the heart of the county, Cornwall Wildlife Trust hopes the project will bring huge benefits to the local wildlife and environment.

Beavers have already had a positive impact on enclosed areas in the county.Beavers have already had a positive impact on enclosed areas in the county. (Image: Getty)

Lauren Jasper, Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Beaver Officer, explains that the reintroduction of wild beavers by Cornwall Wildlife Trust will build on a foundation of work carried out by the Cornwall Beaver Project.

‘We partnered with Chris Jones at Woodland Valley Farm just upstream of Ladock, and in 2017 they introduced a pair of beavers. We’ve seen the benefits they can have in enclosures and now we want to see them rolled out on a wider scale.”’

Motivated by finding a solution to flooding in Ladock, Chris Jones thought beavers may help hold more water on his farm, reducing the flow downstream. Within days of their introduction, the beaver pair created a dam and over the following years they have created several more, slowing down the flow of water into the village. ‘They built dams and created several new ponds, which has slowed the flow of water leaving the site,’ explains Lauren. ‘The ponds hold a lot more water and so we also see loads of benefits to biodiversity.’

Helman Tor Nature Reserve is the proposed site for the wild beavers to be introduced.Helman Tor Nature Reserve is the proposed site for the wild beavers to be introduced. (Image: Lauren Jasper)

In the last five years brown trout have doubled in size in the new beaver ponds; three additional species of mammal including the water shrew have been found, ten new bird species, eleven species of bat and seventeen species of damselfly have also been recorded on the site. In addition to natural flood management and greater species abundance, it is thought that dammed water can pose a solution to droughts. ‘The dams also hold organic matter which sequester carbon and reduces nitrates and pollutants from flowing further downstream and into the ocean,’ reveals Lauren.

But why should we release beavers in Cornwall? Lauren explains that whilst beavers have naturally returned to many parts of Europe, due to being an island they need a helping hand to return to the UK. When it comes to Cornwall in particular: ‘We know that the land is really suitable with loads of vegetation and steep-sided valleys.’ The reintroduction of beavers to the Cornish landscape is also part of a larger initiative being carried out by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, over a 700-acre area near Bodmin. Comprising of six interconnected nature reserves, so far, the Helman Tor Rewilding Project has reintroduced pigs and Longhorn cattle.

Beavers and their dams can help to support other wildlife within the area such as this Marsh Fritillary butterfly. Beavers and their dams can help to support other wildlife within the area such as this Marsh Fritillary butterfly. (Image: Laura Snell)

‘It’s not just about beavers. It’s about creating an environment that is self-regulating and bringing back natural processes that are missing,’ continues Lauren. ‘It’s about creating species diversity and abundance on a larger scale and would be amongst the largest rewilding schemes in Cornwall.’ It is hoped that alongside cattle, beavers will help to reduce scrub encroachment to create more favourable conditions for native grasses, wildflowers, birds and other animals to flourish. They would also play a key role in storing water more effectively on the reserves.

Whilst there is plenty of evidence to support the reintroduction of wild beavers to Cornwall would be beneficial and an appropriate site has been identified in Helman Tor Nature Reserve, there is still lots of work to do. Species reintroduction can create drastic changes to a landscape, and it is crucial it is done right. ‘There’s a lot of preparation needed,’ explains Lauren. ‘Natural England wants to see information which shows habitats before and after, how we’re monitoring water quality, and other things, so there’s a lot of data needed. We’ve been working with Exeter University and the Beaver Trust to identify the sites that would be most useful and modelled across Cornwall what the vegetation and the damming capacity of rivers is like. We’re also speaking to people across the catchment to make sure they understand what we’re trying to do and to identify any areas which might cause concern.’

All of this information will go into a licence application, which Lauren hopes will be ready by the end of summer. ‘We’re hoping to bring together a lot of information and, if approved by Natural England, aim for a release in 2025.’

You can book a guided tour to see the Cornish beavers at Woodland Valley Farm. You can book a guided tour to see the Cornish beavers at Woodland Valley Farm. (Image: Rowan Hartgroves)

Speaking about the main challenges associated with a wild beaver release, Lauren reveals: ‘Having a wild release is up to the Government accepting applications for that.’ Unfortunately, the UK Government recently announced that species reintroduction is not a current priority, despite mounting evidence it can support nature recovery. Nonetheless, Lauren and Cornwall Wildlife Trust are forging ahead with preparations so that they’re ready to make a submission when the time comes. ‘We’re waiting for the government to start accepting applications and in the meantime, my role is to make sure we’re doing this in the right way.’

When it comes to supporting the reintroduction of wild beavers to Cornwall, Lauren encourages people to go and see the beavers through the Cornwall Beaver Project. Guided walking tours take place at Woodland Valley Farm throughout the year and are a great way to learn more. There is also plenty of information about beavers on the Cornwall Wildlife Trust website, where you can donate to help with preparations for the licence application. The final thing to look out for are our series of formal consultations that will be taking place across the Par catchment area, which offer an opportunity to ask questions or raise concerns. And finally, get talking about it with your friends and family to help spread the word.

Beavers are excellent land managers. Beavers are excellent land managers. (Image: Getty)

Did you know?

• Beavers are semi-aquatic and are adapted to life on land and in water. They have webbed feet, closed ears, are great swimmers and can hold their breath.

• Beavers are herbivores and feed on herbs, plants, tree bark and leaves.

• A beaver’s tail is covered in scales, which they slap against the water to announce danger.

• Their large teeth are reddish in colour due to high levels of iron which make them strong enough to fell trees.

• Beavers are amongst the largest rodents in the world and can weigh up to 35 kilogrammes.