Beavers given legal protection in England, Government announces

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Beavers have been given legal protection as a native species in England, making it an offence to kill, harm or disturb them, the Government has said.

Under legislation laid before Parliament rises for the summer, the protection for the animals will come into force from October 1.

It marks a milestone in the return of the semi-aquatic mammals, which were hunted to extinction in Britain in the 16th century for their fur, glands and meat.

They are now found living in the wild on a number of rivers in Scotland and England through official trials and illegal releases or escapes, and have also been introduced into enclosures in a number of English counties.

Conservationists, who support the return of beavers because they engineer river and water systems to boost other wildlife, curb flooding and help water quality, welcomed the move to give them legal protection in England, bringing the country in line with the rules in Scotland.

Wildlife groups are awaiting a national beaver strategy, which it is hoped will pave the way for the licensed release of beavers into the wild in England, where it has local support and benefits for the landscape.

There was confusion earlier in the week, when it seemed as if the legislation would not be laid before the summer recess of Parliament, but the Environment Department said it had now been put in place.

Sandra King, Beaver Trust chief executive, said it was “a huge relief for the restoration of beavers in England that the Government has seen sense and that this is going ahead as planned”.

She said: “We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Wildlife Trusts and other organisations to welcome these fantastic ecosystem engineers back to our land as soon as possible.”

Dr Roisin Campbell-Palmer, Beaver Trust restoration manager, added: “Official recognition that the beaver has returned to Britain is key, though it is vital that a national strategy provides a platform for the continued restoration of this native species to ensure healthy and connected populations so that our wider society and landscapes benefit.

“The return of the beaver has captured public attention and imagination, though there are challenges to a smaller percentage of landowners which require support to encourage coexistence and implement mitigation as required.”

Craig Bennett, chief executive, The Wildlife Trusts, said: “We’re delighted to see the Government give beavers the vital protections they deserve.

“It is important that guidance is now developed quickly to bring farmers and landowners on board with reintroductions of these brilliant animals, providing reassurance and, crucially, incentives to make space for beavers on their land.”

He added: “The widespread return of wild beavers can be a game changer for restoring lost wetlands, benefiting all kinds of wildlife, and helping people by holding back water in the landscape, reducing the risk of wildfires, and the risk of flooding downstream.

“Bringing back wild beavers isn’t just a dream, it is a critical part of addressing the climate and nature crises.”

The Government said the legislation establishes the legal mechanism to strictly manage the release of Eurasian beavers and their control after release.

Tony Juniper, chairman of government conservation agency Natural England, said: “This is a significant moment for beaver recovery, as we see a return of this species to its natural places in England.

“Beavers play important roles in making ecosystems functions properly, helping to store and slow the flow of water through the building of dams and creation of complex wetlands, which in turn can reduce the impact of both floods and droughts, thereby assisting with adaptation to climate change.

“Those wetlands also catch carbon and aid the recovery of a wide range of other species.

“We are working closely with landowners, environmentalists and other stakeholders to develop practical guidance to ensure these wonderful animals are able to thrive in suitable habitats alongside people across England.”

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