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Devon study suggests beavers reduce risk of flooding and boost wildlife populations

They remove soil and manure from water, encouraging more wildlife Credit: PA

Beavers could be one of the answers to flooding in the West Country, according to a report published today.

A five-year trial found that the rodents are able to reduce flooding with their dams, as well as having an ability to 'clean' water supplies by removing soil and manure.

The study focuses on the River Otter Beaver Trial, and has been led by Devon Wildlife Trust, working in partnership with the University of Exeter, Clinton Devon Estates and the Derek Gow Consultancy.

The beaver population has quadrupled since they were reintroduced in 2015

Scientists who have studied the beavers for the last five years say the benefits of reintroducing the creatures far outweigh the financial cost - but there are also issues created for local people in bringing them back.

Beaver activity have had an adverse impact on farmland at five sites during the study.

Reversing the problems took the form of the removal of beaver dams, while elsewhere the installation of so-called 'beaver deceivers' (pipes through dams which reduce surrounding water-levels) were used.

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The report argues that while it's true that beavers have created localised problems for farmers and property owners, they can be managed with the right support and intervention.

The study marked England's first licensed release of beavers into the wild since they were hunted to extinction more than 400 years ago.

In 2015 the trial started with two breeding pairs of beavers, five years later at least eight pairs now occupy "the main stem of the River Otter and [the connected] River Tale, as well as some smaller tributaries".

Although there are benefits to having them around, the beavers did cause problems for local farmers

One of the areas that seen a benefit from the presence of the beavers is East Budleigh.

Six dams were recorded as being built upstream of the village, which scientists say have significantly reduced peak flood flows through the community.

The trial found that public support during the observation was high.

When more than 3,000 people were asked by the trial's researchers whether they supported the reintroduction of beavers, 86% said yes.

The Government needs to make a decision about the future of wild beavers in the UK Credit: PA

I think we've all been surprised by these amazing animals' ability to thrive, once again, in our wetland ecosystems.

It also shows their unrivalled capacity to breathe new life into our rivers and wetlands, very few of which are in good health.

We have seen over these five years, how beavers really do have the ability to help to restore the natural processes that all our wetland wildlife depends on.

As a society we get so much benefit from healthy rivers and streams that function naturally - we just need to give them greater space and appreciate them more - beavers play a crucial role in helping with that.

The key to success will be to provide support for all landowners to make space for wetlands on their land - ensuring those who enable these far-reaching benefits to be provided are also able to manage their thriving rural businesses.

– Mark Elliott, Devon Wildlife Trust

The report has now been presented to both the Government and Natural England, who need to make the decision on the future of East Devon's beavers.