The Eurasian beaver (Castor fibre) is native to the UK and used to be widespread across England, Scotland and Wales. Beavers became extinct here in the 16th century, because of hunting for their pelt, meat and a secretion called castoreum which they use to mark their territory. The latter was once highly prized for use in perfumes, food and medicine.
Over the past decade major efforts have been underway to reintroduce beavers into the British countryside. As a result, the Eurasian beaver has shown good recovery across much of its range.
The National Trust recently announced that two pairs of beaver will be released in the south of England next spring, after their plans were approved by Natural England. These releases are part of the National Trust’s wider plan to restore 25,000 hectares of “wildlife-rich” habitats by 2025.
One pair is to be released into a fenced woodland in Holnicote near Exmoor in Somerset. The other pair is to be released at Valewood on the Black Down Estate on the edge of the South Downs.
The aim of these introductions is for beavers to become an important part of the ecology, developing natural processes and contributing to the health and richness of wildlife in the area. Their re-introduction is hoped to help with flood management and improving biodiversity.
Beavers are often referred to as ‘ecosystem engineers’ as the landscapes they help to create can benefit the humans and a host of species.
They build dams which slows the flow of water and can lessen flash-flooding damage downstream. They also help to create diverse and complex wetland habitats that support many species. Their presence in river catchments is also a sustainable way to make our landscape more resilient to climate change.
Although beavers play an important positive role in the ecosystem, they can also cause problems that are sometimes more than just a nuisance, as beaver dams can also cause flooding which wipes out land that farmers need for crops or livestock. They can also gnaw through rare or important trees, and uncontrolled felling of trees can pose a hazard to utility lines and homes.
These remarkable water engineers are capable of restoring and enhancing the landscape, but their reintroduction needs to be done with great care! With help from Exeter University, these two release projects will be monitored in terms of ecological and hydrological changes to habitat.
At chXout we carry our beaver sexing through DNA analysis of a plucked pelt sample. We use PCR based techniques to amplify selective regions of the X or Y chromosomes to differentiate sexes with high accuracy. Our service will provide you with accurate and fast results to aid monitoring, re-introductions and ex situ conservation breeding programmes.
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Original article: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-50485784