Beaver spotted in Bristol city centre river for the first time in 500 years

  • Watch the young beaver swimming near Bedminster Bridge

A beaver has been spotted swimming in the River Avon in Bristol for the first time in 500 years.

It was spotted by hairdresser James David who saw the creature in the water coming upstream towards Bedminster Bridge on Thursday 13 April.

Suspecting the creature in the river to be a dog, James pulled his phone out to zoom in on it and was surprised to see the beaver.

He said: "It took me by surprise, I thought it was a dog when it was in the distance and wasn’t expecting to see it there.

"It's a very fast-flowing river so wondering if it got washed down from all the rain. I was over the moon when I saw it - blown away." 

Beavers were hunted to extinction in the UK in 1500 but are now back in our rivers Credit: Ian Wilson

Beavers are native to the UK but were hunted to extinction in the 1500s.

Sightings of the animal are very rare in Bristol but this isn't the first time a wild beaver has been spotted on the Avon.

In 2021, a wild beaver was spotted on the river for the first time in 400 years.

At the time Amy Coulthard, Director of Nature’s Recovery at Avon Wildlife Trust, told ITV News West Country: "A new sighting of wild beavers is extremely significant.

"Beavers are a keystone species and they have an extraordinary ability to change habitats to suit their needs while creating ecosystems for other species to thrive.

"The presence of this beaver population will support other wildlife and help us to tackle the ecological emergency."

There are now thought to be around 50 beavers living in the River Avon and its tributaries, but the sight of one in the middle of the city shows how established the population is.

Natural England first became aware of beavers on the Avon in 2019, with increasing numbers reported each year and evidence of breeding at several locations.

Experts said the beaver spotted this week is likely to be a dispersing young adult, perhaps from Bath, as they tend to leave their natal territory aged two and usually in the spring.

There are now 13 beaver territories along the Avon and this young individual may be looking for a vacant territory or just exploring.

Exploring the city

Although it may seem unusual for a beaver to venture into the city, the experts added that the species is highly adaptable and can withstand moderate levels of noise and activity.

In fact, they are often found in European cities and elsewhere in Britain.

"Ecosystem engineers"

Beavers are called "ecosystem engineers" because they build dams which can completely transform the landscape by creating diverse wetland habitats.

These wetlands slow, store and filter water helping to reduce downstream flooding, improve water quality and increase resilience to drought.

They are also important for providing a home for lots of other wildlife including mammals like water voles and otters, as well as many amphibians, birds and invertebrates.

Overall, beavers contribute to a more healthy and resilient landscape.

While beavers can be hugely beneficial, they can also cause challenges in certain locations, such as felling trees and dams causing localised flooding.

Most impacts from beavers occur within 20m of the water’s edge and techniques can be employed to help prevent or reduce these impacts such as making space for beavers through the creation of buffer zones and the use of non-licensed and licensed techniques such as dam removal.

Natural England has developed guidance which explains the five-step approach that should be taken to manage beaver activities and how you can manage impacts from beavers.

The Avon Wildlife Trust hopes beavers can help prevent flooding in years to come. Credit: Ian Wilson

How to help beavers thrive

Beavers are fascinating animals, and can be great fun to watch, but care should be taken to keep disturbance to a minimum .

You can do this by keeping your distance and not allowing dogs to enter the water where beavers are present, especially during the spring and summer when female beavers may have kits and feel particularly threatened.

The Beaver Trust has recently published ‘The Beaver Code’ which they have encouraged people to follow.

The public can also help by recordings sightings and signs of beavers using the free Mammal Mapper app.