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One day to go: Waiting for Beavers

Posted: Thursday 15th June 2017 by CornwallBeaverProject

The pond at the centre of the Woodland Valley site

In the final blog before the release itself, Peter Cooper takes a walk through the Woodland Valley ahead of a long-awaited return.

They’re definitely on their way now. A freshly dug-in wire and timber fence has enclosed this woodland glade, about 6 acres in size and already bordered by ancient hedges and the cracked-mud of the farm track. To some, it may look designed to keep in any of the other livestock typical of a farm like this one, albeit with an added degree of security when one notices the electric strands close to the ground. Ultimately however, the beavers that will set up home here, while technically captive, will be living lives as if they were wild. There will be little interference from people, and they will become part of the local ecology in its own right.

As I walk, the ground is thick with grasses and rushes that tickle all the way to my knees, their green dappled with rippling shadows of sunlight that dance under a canopy of young oak, willows and alders. You may not have realised the stream was here were it not for the sound of the mumbled trickle, so dense is the vegetation. It’s shallow enough that you may be tempted for a quick paddle, where the water would do no more than tickle your toes. Give it a year however, and I reckon you’d probably need to consider a swimsuit. Another couple of years, and you may not even recognise it as the same place.

Such is the magic effect of beaver engineering I have seen elsewhere, and cannot wait to see here. There is wildlife of course, but one has to wonder whether there could be more. The banded demoiselle that flickers past me like an emerald fairy to settle on a water dropwort should be one of dozens. Chiffchaffs, goldcrests and willow warblers sing from hidden perches within the early summer blooms, but it’s far off a chorus.

Wet woodland like this would be filled with beavers in the Britain of centuries ago – eons by our short-term perception of time, but the blink of an eye to nature, whose ecological make-up is still based on the schematics of back then. In a sense, while the glade I walk through is beautiful in its own right, it feels more like inspecting a room prior to the furniture being installed. A crucial cog is about to be restored in a matter of days, and the excitement is palpable.

The trees open up in the centre of the site to reveal a large pond, which I’m sure will be the beaver’s centre stage. Over my head, the slate-grey bullet of a sparrowhawk belts through the willows, while trout dart just as fast in the toffee-coloured waters below. Looking to the meadow that rises above the wood from behind me, I catch a glimpse of a vixen carrying a rabbit that is likely destined for hungry cubs.

All are obviously oblivious to the knowledge they’ll be joined by new neighbours. But they are all a part of the same picture that the beaver will build an even richer masterpiece out of.

It’s a tiny, tiny part of the range beavers would’ve once covered of course. But the fact this is happening at all paves very promising things for the future of beavers in Cornwall, and Britain as a whole. After millennia of battering our natural habitats and species into an oblivion of what it once was, we are finally opening golden gates of opportunity. The fact we recognise the beaver as one such example is reason to celebrate.

My next visit to this wood will be the day of the release, which on the day this is published will be tomorrow. It can’t come quickly enough.

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