Beavers to make return to Sussex centuries after UK extinction

The beaver is making a comeback in Sussex after an absence of more than 400 years.

Beaver image by David Plummer.

The natural ecosystem engineers, which help so much with natural flood management and water quality, were hunted to extinction in the UK in the 16th century.

But thanks to The Sussex Beaver Trial, a partnership led by Sussex Wildlife Trust and the rewilding project at the Knepp Estate near Horsham, there will be a reintroduction of two pairs of beaver in either late spring 2020 or in the autumn, in Knepp’s Southern Block.

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The beavers will be released under a Natural England licence in two locations within a large enclosed area for a five-year period to see how they settle into and adapt to their new environment.

Beaver image by David Plummer.

The beavers will have more 250 hectares of land, including extensive swathes of willow, available to them where they can roam and do what they do best – natural coppicing and natural flood management.

Beavers are extraordinary hydrological engineers, able to build leaky dams and lodges, and create channels and deep pools.

This activity will provide natural flood management benefits within the Adur catchment, as well as maintaining a base flow of water in drought conditions.

Isabella Tree, co-owner of Knepp Estate, said: “This is a dream come true for us. We know beavers are one of the biggest influences missing from our landscape.

“Not only are they masters of water management, they’re hugely beneficial to biodiversity.

“Insects, birds, aquatic plants and fish will all gain from the intricate habitats they create.

“I am longing for the day when I hear a beaver tail slapping on Hammer Pond.”

Fran Southgate, living landscape advisor at Sussex Wildlife Trust said the arrival of the beavers would be a boost to the wetland.

She said: “At least 80 per cent of the UK’s natural wetlands have been damaged or destroyed in the past, and in Sussex it is probably closer to 95 per cent.

“Wetlands are some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet, and are fantastic carbon sinks, helping to buffer us against climate change too.

“Bringing beavers back to Sussex will start to show us what a healthy wetland should truly look like.”

The beaver releases are being monitored as part of a national project, with specialist ecologists advising.

Another licence has also been granted by Natural England for a beaver release at Valewood on the National Trust’s Black Down Estate.

The Sussex Beaver Trial is led by Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Knepp Estate, working in partnership with The University of Exeter, Southern Water, Natural England, the Environment Agency, and the Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust.

Expert advice is provided by Mark Elliott of the Devon Beaver Trial and Roisin Campbell-Palmer, an independent beaver consultant.

Find out more about the Sussex Beaver Trial and the benefits that beavers can bring: