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From what they eat to where they sleep: Everything you need to know about beavers

Eurasian beavers will be introduced into Cumbria. Credit: PA

A trial to reintroduce beavers into Cumbria has been given the go-ahead by the government.

The species, which were hunted to extinction in the 16th century, will be introduced in a scheme on the Lowther Estate in the Eden Valley.

It will be the first time the semi-aquatic mammals have been reintroduced into the north-west of England.

An adult male and female and up to four kits will be taken from the Tay catchment, in Scotland, and released in March into a 27-acre fenced enclosure of woodland, grassland and wetland which the scheme's backers hope the animals will help transform into an even richer habitat.

Everything you need to know about beavers:

  • Beavers are native to the UK but they became extinct in the 16th century after being hunted for fur and meat.
  • Four beaver families were introduced to Argyll in 2009 as a trial but there's also been an unlicensed population living in Tayside for over a decade.
  • In November 2016, Scottish Government announced that as a protected species, any beavers released will require a licence.
  • There is a small population of beavers on the River Otter in Devon, from either an unlicensed or accidental release.
  • Beavers provide woodland management by gnawing down trees and stimulating growth - they 'coppice' trees like willow, hazel, rowan and aspen.
  • There are two species of beavers, which are found in the forests of North America, Europe, and Asia.
  • There have been more than 200 beaver reintroduction projects (and many unofficial releases) in over 26 European countries.
  • Beavers construct homes called 'lodges' and they create a dam directly outside - at least a metre deep - to protect themselves against predators.
The trial will examine how beavers can restore small modified streams in a farmed landscape. Credit: PA

Conservationists support the decision to reintroduce the family and say it could help prevent flooding by damming streams and slowing the flow of water, as well as boosting water quality and other wildlife.

The estate is working alongside Cumbria Beaver Group, which also includes Cumbria Wildlife Trust, the RSPB and Eden Rivers Trust as well as working with the community to ensure a smooth transition for the animals.

Lowther's conservation manager, Jim Bliss, said: "The project is part our the wider vision for the estate. Lowther Estate has gone through a period of conventional farming in recent decades and we're now looking towards a wild land farming scheme and beavers feed into that.

"Where the beavers are being released, we've got an amazing potential for wetland habitat, and the beavers are a massive help in creating that as ecological engineers."

It is part of changes to a more sustainable farming system on the estate, which also includes a switch from sheep to livestock including native longhorn cattle, which spend the winter outside and can be used for conservation grazing.

It is hoped the beavers will deliver benefits such as carbon storage, flood mitigation and an increase in wildlife, and provide evidence that if a full-scale release into the wild got the go-ahead it would create positive change.

  • Video report by Tim Backshall.

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David Harpley, chairman of Cumbria Beaver Group and conservation manager at Cumbria Wildlife Trust, said the trial would help provide evidence of the impact beavers could have in the upland landscape.

"It's a new location, new habitat types, we're getting into the fringes of the uplands here, so it's slightly different to what's been done already."

He pointed to the benefits of beavers that other trials around Britain had revealed.

"Not only do you have flood alleviation benefits, you have improved water quality, increased invertebrate production, increased numbers of frogs and other amphibians. It all seems strongly positive," he said.

The group is also looking into setting up a camera to live-stream beaver activity once they have been released, so people can watch the animals from their laptop or phone.