Cornwall Beaver Project FAQs

Female beaver, by Mike Symmes/Devon Wildlife TrustFemale beaver, by Mike Symmes/Devon Wildlife Trust

Why do some people want the beaver to be reintroduced?

Beavers are a native species and some people wish to see them back living in their former range. They have the potential to enhance areas for other wildlife by creating new and expanded wetlands. Their activities have been shown to improve water cleanliness and hold water back, potentially reducing impacts of flooding.

Are the beavers we plan to introduce a native species?

The Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) was native in Britain until its extinction around the 17th century. The North American beaver (Castor canadensis) is a separate species not native in Europe or Asia. The beavers coming to Cornwall are Eurasian beavers that have been born and captive bred in the UK.

Were beavers ever present in Cornwall?

A section of a beaver skull and fragments of pelvic bone were found at an archaeological dig at The Rumps in North Cornwall in the 1960s. The bones were verified by the Natural History Museum.

How many beavers do we want to introduce?

Two adults, a male and female, both two years old that have been captive bred in the UK.

How often do beavers breed?

Beavers breed once a year and produce between 1-4 kits. Mating occurs between January and February and kits are born in the lodge between April and June. Kits emerge after approximately 6-8 weeks. Beavers tend to stay with the family group until around 2 years old.

What if our beavers breed?

The enclosure will be five acres in size so big enough to accommodate breeding adults and their kits. Adults and kits can successfully share the same territory if there is plenty of food available. If we get to the stage where some beavers need to be removed then they will be re-located, probably to another beaver project elsewhere in the UK.

What will happen to the wildlife habitats already at the site?

The site consists of young plantation woodland, a steep-sided pond and a stream. Until recently the woodland was occupied by free-range pigs so there is limited ground vegetation. The site has no nature conservation designations and there is huge potential to create a wider diversity of habitats and increase the amount of plant and animal species at the site.

Will beavers affect old or important trees on the site?

The Cornwall Beaver Project contains a plantation of young even-aged trees. We expect the beavers to coppice several trees (fell them and allow them to re-grow from the base). Coppicing will have the effect of opening up the plantation and diversifying the structure of the habitat. This is one way in which beaver activity can lead to an increase in the diversity and numbers of other species.

Do beavers eat fish?

No, they are completely herbivorous. Beavers eat woody plants and bark, aquatic plants, grasses and shrubs.

Do beavers affect fish species?

Beaver activities may have both positive and negative impacts on different fish species. Understanding the overall impact is complex. Beaver dams may act as barriers to migratory species such as salmon and cause localised siltation upstream of dams affecting spawning habitat. On the other hand, positive impacts may include an increase in habitat for fish rearing and overwintering, an increase in refuge areas during high and low flow periods and an increase in aquatic invertebrate prey species. Researchers from the University of Southampton are currently researching the impacts of beavers on fish and they will be involved with the Cornwall Beaver Project. We are in touch with local angling groups and want to work together to further our collective understanding of this issue.

Why do beavers build dams?

Beavers feel safe close to water. They will build dams if they feel they need to raise the water level in order to access their feeding areas and/or to have enough water around their lodge to safely access through underwater entrances. Eurasian beavers will only build dams in small water courses.

What happens after the five year project?

A decision will be made at a later date and will depend on whether or not the project has provided sufficient information for the research teams. It will also depend if the landowners, Chris and Janet Jones, wish to continue to keep beavers. It is possible that the project will continue in the same vein beyond the initial five year period.

Will wild reintroductions happen in Cornwall as a result of our fenced trial?

This project is concerned with gathering information about the impacts of beavers, to complement the other research projects currently being carried out in the UK and Europe. The primary research focus for this project is the potential for beavers to reduce flooding and reduce problems of low-flows in rivers. There are many concerns about wider beaver re-introduction. This project will help to inform future discussions about the re-introduction of beavers but will not provide us with all the answers, particularly with respect to impacts on migratory fish. We must be aware that the river system involved here may be quite different to other Cornish rivers. Any future plans to re-introduce beavers without a fence will need extensive consultation and a license from Natural England - a very different proposition to this fenced project.

Do beavers carry many diseases and parasites?

Beavers may carry native diseases similar to other mammals and rodents in the UK. In continental Europe they can carry a tapeworm that can affect humans. We have taken advice on this and as a result the beavers for the Cornwall Beaver Project will be captive bred in the UK. This significantly reduces the risk. Our beavers will also be health-screened before release.

Do beavers carry bovine TB?

Theoretically, like most mammals, beavers could carry bovine TB. However, there have been no reported or confirmed cases of bovine TB in Eurasian beavers across Europe.

Are beavers dangerous to the public?

Beavers are wild animals and as such should not be closely approached as their behaviour may be unpredictable. Beavers are shy, nocturnal animals and very unlikely to be dangerous to the public if left undisturbed.

What if the beavers escape the fenced area?

The fence will be built to a recommended specification. High quality materials will be used and the fence will be regularly tested, checked and maintained as necessary. Escape from the fence is unlikely. If the fence is breached we will locate the escaped animal/s and use harmless cage traps to catch them and return them to the enclosure once the breach is fixed.