Hunted to extinction across the UK 400 years ago for their pelts and oil from their scent glands (known as castoreum), we have a vision for returning this charismatic animal back to London where it once thrived. In January 2021, working with the Beaver Trust, we brought together some of London’s key conservation organisations, community groups and environmental decision-makers in London to discuss the possibility of beavers in our Capital once again.
As the Rewilding movement continues to grow, species reintroductions are gathering pace, and beavers are now high on the agenda of many conservation strategies. As ecosystem engineers, they breathe life into ecosystems, damming up streams to create wetland habitats where wildlife can thrive. In addition to this, the wetland habitats they create are excellent for flood prevention, sequestering carbon and providing water during periods of drought.
After centuries of persecution by humans, beaver numbers are on the rise again right across Europe and North America. While the majority of these are in rural settings, this incredible species is also bouncing back in towns and cities. The most famous example is throughout Bavaria, where an initial release in the 1960s and 1970s into the countryside, combined with years of dedicated work to overcome human-beaver conflict, has led to the population spreading into towns and cities, including Munich itself! Slightly further from home, in Vancouver in 2008, the city’s beaverless ‘Beaver Lake’ had purpose put back into its name when a solo beaver turned up. This individual was soon followed by a second in 2011 and a family has thrived in Stanley Park ever since, living happily alongside the city’s 2.5mn residents.
As beaver reintroductions are on the rise across the UK, just one has taken place within an urban setting so far, namely in Plymouth and is run by their Council as part of a community engagement, habitat creation and flood management project. As the conversations around further reintroductions gather pace, we decided to accelerate the beaver agenda in London and did this by starting the London Beaver Working Group, to facilitate collaborative discussion around two individual scenarios:
- Beavers natural recolonisation of the Capital’s waterways. We know there are free-living beavers across the country which are expanding fast, and wild populations are as close to London as Kent. Estimates suggest they can travel from 8-12 kilometres to find a new territory! So the possibility of beavers’ natural recolonising London’s waterways is not out of the question. By bringing together different stakeholders, we wanted to get a conversation started around a strategy for this scenario and how to prepare for it effectively.
- A pro-active reintroduction of beavers to the Capital. At Citizen Zoo, we actively promote well-considered species reintroductions and are keen to progress this for beavers in London. Having identified potential sites, we were keen to hear from other organisations that own or manage other potentially viable sites. A key part of this is to assess both the ecological and political landscapes of each site.
The London Beaver Working Group has met to discuss these two scenarios, as well as to learn from the Beaver Trust and Plymouth Council about their experiences with beaver reintroductions in rural and urban settings. Working with the Beaver Trust and their other projects, we put forward a format for a tiered working Group:
- Core Group – Organisations with the agency and capacity to actively drive forward the London beaver agenda. This can also include those who are proactively investigating potential introductions.
- Wider Working Group – An inclusive group of organisations and people interested in contributing to the beaver agenda in London. This will work to advise the direction of travel of the group, facilitating knowledge sharing and collaborative working.
- Public Forum – This group will be focused on community engagement to help raise awareness of beavers in London and provide opportunities for the public to learn and engage.
After some positive discussions with the London Beaver Working Group, we reached out to participants to collate potential sites for a proactive reintroduction. After receiving several possibilities, we were joined by representatives of the Beaver Trust to visit four sites across London to assess their viability with some very positive outcomes.
While still in its infancy, we are very excited about the project’s prospects in terms of its ecological and environmental benefits, as well as its potential in terms of community engagement and education…
Read more at the project website.