A pair of beavers have been released into an enclosure on a former shooting estate which is being restored for nature and sustainable food production.
The male and female beavers, named Chompy and Hazel in a competition by local schoolchildren, were released into ponds at Ewhurst Park near Basingstoke, Hampshire.
It marks the first time in 400 years that the semi-aquatic mammals, which help to manage the landscape and create wetland habitat that supports other wildlife, curbs flooding and stores water, have lived in the county.
They were released on Monday into a large fenced area of woodland and ponds at the 925-acre estate which once belonged to the Duke of Wellington and is now owned by model, entrepreneur and environmentalist, Mandy Lieu.
Ms Lieu sees the beavers as a key part of transforming Ewhurst, an estate made up of parkland, farmland and woodlands, into an “edible landscape” that restores nature at the same time as producing food.
She helped to release the beavers from large cages set close by the water’s edge, saying she was “thrilled” to bring them back not just for Ewhurst, but for the community and local area for generations to come.
“It has been a very rewarding journey learning about what beavers need, how they will impact the environment around them and the benefits that they will bring to other animals and plants.”
Beavers were once widespread, but 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 been introduced into enclosures in a number of English counties.
Last year, the Environment Department (Defra) followed the Scottish Government’s lead and gave beavers legal protection as a native species in England, although conservationists are still waiting on a strategy for supporting their return to the country.
There is a growing body of evidence from reintroduction sites that beaver dams slow the passage of water through landscapes, cutting flood risk downstream and conserving water in times of drought.
The wetlands they create can become havens for other wildlife, including dozens of bird and insect species.
Dr Roisin Campbell-Palmer, head of restoration at Beaver Trust, said: “We’re really pleased to see another county providing a home for beavers as part of the species’ restoration efforts across Britain.
“We are working towards their continued return to the wild, with appropriate licensing and management frameworks but, in the meantime, enclosures such as the one here at Ewhurst remain an important part of the restoration story.”
Alongside the beaver introduction at Ewhurst, Iron Age boars and Tamworth pig sows have been introduced to movable enclosures in the woodland to recreate natural processes, and drains are being blocked to restore areas that were once wetland.
Grassland grazed by traditional breeds has been restored, trees will be planted in suitable places, work on a market garden has begun and there are plans for pockets of productive “forest gardens” on woodland edges.