Beavers have been released into an enclosure at a Welsh nature reserve to help manage important peat bog habitat, conservationists have said.
The first members of a family of beavers, a father and son, were released into a secure fenced area at Cors Dyfi Nature Reserve, near Machynlleth, Powys, which was once used as a conifer plantation.
Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, which manages the reserve, said the impact of former forestry ditches and tree stumps meant traditional methods of dealing with areas of the site, such as coppicing, were all but impossible.
Over the years the trust has considered alternatives including water buffalo, but now it is hoped the beavers will help efforts to return the landscape to wet lowland peat bog.
The semi-aquatic mammals are known as “ecosystem engineers” which can restore wetlands and benefit wildlife through their foraging for plants and trees to eat and building dams.
The family have been taken under licence from the wild in Scotland, as an alternative to lethal control where beavers are coming into conflict with farmers or other landowners, and the mother will join them shortly.
Beavers were historically found in British rivers and wetlands but were hunted to extinction by the 16th century for their fur, meat and glands.
Various organisations and landowners are introducing them in fenced sites to boost nature and reduce flooding, while they are now also found wild on a number of rivers across Britain.
Emyr Evans, Dyfi projects manager at Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, said: “The beavers will be a fantastic tool in our efforts to return Cors Dyfi into a wet lowland peat bog once again.
“Our volunteers are really excited to have beavers at the reserve and it will be their job to monitor the beavers and measure the positive impacts of these mammals.”
The father, who is a rare black beaver, and his son, who is brown with patches of darker fur, were released with the help of naturalist and television presenter Iolo Williams.
He said: “Finally, after more than four centuries, these wonderful animals are back where they belong and I’m sure they will prove to be as big an attraction as their osprey neighbours.”
The Welsh Beaver Project, led by North Wales Wildlife Trusts on behalf of all the Wildlife Trusts in Wales, has assisted Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust in applying for a licence to release the beavers and funding the enclosure.
A public consultation into the scheme was held last autumn by Natural Resources Wales and a licence issued earlier this month.
While the beavers are not wild, the team behind the scheme say having the animals at a visitor hub such as Cors Dyfi will help inform people about their behaviour and how it can support the restoration of habitats.
The Welsh Beaver Project is also developing plans for reintroducing beavers into the wild, which will be subject to a separate public consultation led by Natural Resources Wales in due course.
Conservationists back the return of the once-native species to restore wetland habitats, boost other wildlife, curb flooding, improve water quality and support eco-tourism.
But farmers and anglers raise concerns over their impacts on the landscape, business and recreation.
Alicia Leow-Dyke, Welsh beaver project officer, Wildlife Trusts Wales, said: It is wonderful to finally see beavers at Cors Dyfi nature reserve, where people can visit and learn more about the many benefits beavers can bring.
“We hope this will help bolster support for a managed reintroduction to the wild in the near future.”