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Beaver dams in east Devon create area of wetland amid drought

A photo of the dams

A network of dams built by beavers in Devon has helped to maintain an area of wetland despite a drought in the South West.

There are a number of beaver families living on land owned and farmed by Clinton Devon Estates.

They were the subject of a five-year study ending in 2020 which explored the impact of beavers on the countryside.

The trial found a number of benefits and the beavers have been allowed to continue living in the area.

The mammals used sticks and mud to create several dams on the estate in less than a year, and a hectare of grazing land is now permanently underwater as a result.

East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Ranger Ed Lagdon said: “The water is up to two feet in some areas and is fantastic for wildlife such as birds and invertebrates.

“It also brings flood prevention benefits and carbon capture within the wetland.”

A photo of a beaver

Ed Lagdon

‘Benefits outweigh costs’

Estate surveyor Clare James said the beaver families were adding to the biodiversity of the area, but it was important to “tread with caution” as it could impact farming and surrounding land owners.

“As the beaver numbers increase, how is this going to affect our grazing and our arable land?

“That’s a really big question for land managers across the country as beavers begin to move their territories through our tributaries.”

A photo of the wetland

Clinton Devon Estates

Matt Holden, Devon Wildlife Trust’s Beaver Project manager, said there were pros and cons to beavers and their dams.

He said: “Whilst beavers create benefits society-wide, we recognise the impact of those are compounded on a few individuals, often land owners and those in charge of infrastructure.

“Those impacts can be localised flooding, which can restrict access to land like farmland and losses of crops.”

He added: “There are costs of managing beavers, but the benefits outweigh those costs.”

A photo of the dam

New government legislation comes into force on 1 October, which will see beavers given legal protection as a recognised native species in England, meaning it will be illegal to disturb, harm or kill them.

It follows a government consultation last year on the future of beavers in England.

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