I recently had the pleasure of visiting The Bevis Trust in Carmarthenshire to see the work they are doing towards the reintroduction of European Beavers in Wales as they work in conjunction with The Welsh Beaver Project and The Wildlife Trust Wales studying the impact any reintroduction will have on the environment.
Historically beavers were indigenous to Wales and the UK but were hunted to extinction in the 1600’s.
The project is to establish 10 pairs of European Beaver along the River Cowyn and Nant Cennin in Carmarthenshire with the support of local farmers and landowners and the hope is that the first releases can happen this year along the River Cowyn and Nant Cennin in Carmarthenshire.
The Welsh Government has signed up to restore them under the EU Habitats Directive and the Afon Cywyn and Nant Cynnen catchments in Carmarthenshire are the proposed sites for the first planned releases of captive-bred beavers.
Similar projects are in place across the UK, and in Scotland the beaver is now considered a native species.
The Beaver is a keystone species and can play a crucial role in restoring wetland ecosystems and riparian habitats, encouraging other key species such as otters, water voles, frogs, newts and insects.
The reintroduction of beavers may also have a beneficial impact in flood management and prevention as their ponds and dams help reduce the velocity and flow of flood waters.
Beavers are large rodents and can weigh over 25kg – the size of a spaniel. They have 2-3 kits per year and live in close-knit family groups. They are highly territorial against other beavers.
They are mainly nocturnal, although the beavers at the Trust can be seen at dusk.
Beavers live in ‘lodges’ constructed of mud and timber or in burrows. These can be on the riverside or under banks and are accessed by underwater tunnels.
The Bevis Trust have three family groups of beaver in natural settings on their 290 acre farm. Two of the families live in areas of mixed woodland, scrub and ponds. The other family is on a much larger lake and can access a much greater area of woodland. All the pairs are free to wander within their boundaries and display all the natural behaviours beavers exhibit – dam building, browsing, grooming and playing. Kits can be seen in the summer.
The area is also rich in other wildlife.
The Bevis Trust have two hides that you can visit to watch the beavers at work, one taking 8 people, the other a more intimate 2.
Both locations provide an excellent opportunity to photograph the beavers in a natural environment.
Bookings can be made from here.
I was shown around the farm and introduced to the trusts work by Drew Love Jones the Assistant General manager and then left to spend the evening exploring the farm and viewing the beavers from the two specially constructed hides.
Evidence of beaver activity was all around, from gnawed tree stumps to the visible lodges and food stores on the lakes.
The beaver population at the Trust has also been expanding, and humane traps have been laid so that some juvenile animals can be moved to other reintroduction sites across the UK.
As promised just after 8 pm I saw the first ripples on the still waters of the pond, closely followed by a mature female beaver and her kit, which I watched swimming and eating for most of the evening.
I was set up in the small hide overlooking the smaller pond for a more intimate view of the beavers. No room for a tripod so a bean bag was used instead.
Light was getting poor and I had to use the full ISO range of my camera and a fast F4 lens to keep my shutter speed up and keep the photos sharp.
As the light faded I made my way to the larger hide and enjoyed a fantastic sunset over the lake as two beavers cruised around.
Overall trip worth making, seeing and photographing the beavers and supporting such a worthwhile project.