A FAMILY of wild beavers were allowed to remain free in 2015 thanks to a licence issued by Natural England.

The beavers, which live on the River Otter in East Devon, were first discovered to be breeding in February 2014.

Defra announced its intention to capture and remove the animals in July 2014 citing the risk to human health from a tape-worm that European beavers are known to carry.

Defra’s decision sparked an overwhelming response from local people, with the vast majority showing their support for the beavers to remain.

South West Farmer: Beaver on the River Otter in 2015.

Devon Wildlife Trust has spent six months working with Defra, Natural England, local farmers and the wider community to secure a solution that would see the disease risk addressed and the beavers remain.

The licence, which was issued to Devon Wildlife Trust, permit the managed release into the wild of beavers currently resident in the River Otter catchment in Devon. The licence was on a five-year trial basis.

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Devon Wildlife Trust’s licence application was thoroughly assessed against the internationally recognised guidelines published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The licence was subject to a range of conditions, including confirmation that the beavers are of Eurasian origin and are free of the Echinococcus multilocularis parasite.

The beavers were captured and tested before being returned to the river. Under the terms of the licence, Devon Wildlife Trust had to develop a management strategy to deal quickly with any undesirable impacts which the beavers may have on the River Otter during the trial period, as well as a monitoring programme to study their impacts.

As part of the licence the beavers were briefly be brought in to captivity in order for health checks to be made. This process was overseen by Defra with expert advice from leading zoological and beaver experts.

Peter Burgess, Devon Wildlife Trust’s Conservation Manager, led the licence application to Natural England.

He explained what the project will mean: "This project will measure the impact that these beavers have on the local environment, on the local economy and on local people. The evidence from elsewhere shows that beavers should have an overwhelmingly positive effect, but this is the first time the animals will be living in a well-populated, agriculturally productive English landscape for hundreds of years.

"We need to ensure that any negative impacts of beavers are avoided. This will mean working alongside the Environment Agency, local authorities and landowners to manage any problems that may arise over the coming years."

Andrew Sells, Natural England’s chairman, added: “Reintroduction of a species is a complicated and emotive subject and we have considered this application very carefully.

“Responses to our written consultation and public meetings have been generally positive and we are now satisfied with Devon Wildlife Trust’s plans for managing and monitoring the project, which will allow important evidence to be gathered during the trial on any impacts which the beavers may have.”