Dam good idea! Finchingfield welcomes beavers back to Essex after 400 years
PUBLISHED: 14:04 18 March 2019 | UPDATED: 14:22 18 March 2019
In a secluded pocket of woodland just outside of Finchingfield two Eurasian beavers are busy making themselves at home, in what the landowner hopes will become a dam-building dynasty.
After being hunted to extinction in Britain 400 years ago for their fur and scent glands, ‘nature’s engineers’ are now back in Essex and, experts hope, will have an important part to play in minimising flood risk to the nearby village.
The mammals, which are about four years old, travelled from a Devon colony and were released into a four hectare enclosure on the Spains Hall estate on Thursday.
It is hoped the beavers will help reduce the risk of flooding by building dams along the brook flowing through their enclosure.
In February 2014 flooding in and around Finchingfield forced two local primary schools to close temporarily and villagers had to move out of their homes and discard destroyed belongings after “devastating” floods hit 18 years ago, Spains Hall estate owner Archie Ruggles-Brise says.
The beaver-built dams are being accompanied by a man-made natural flood management scheme on a second strand of Finchingfield Brook, which features a ‘leaky dam’ approach. This consists of securing tree branches or trunks across a watercourse, which helps slow the flow after heavy rain.
Using data collected by equipment placed around the leaky dam and the beaver enclosure, scientists will be able to establish if this approach is more successful than more conventional flood prevention methods.
Speaking to a cluster of wildlife and environment experts on Friday, at an event to celebrate the beavers’ release, Archie described the project as “man against beast”, adding “I know who my money is on”.
The scheme is being led by Archie, who family has lived on the estate for 250 years, and has been supported by the Environment Agency, Essex Wildlife Trust and Essex and Suffolk Rivers Trust and local councillors. The project was enabled thanks to locally raised funding from the Anglian Eastern Regional Flood and Coastal Committee (RFCC).
One Show presenter and wildlife filmmaker Mike Dilger has rehomed Asian elephants,tigers and lions; and last week he watched as the beavers stepped on Essex soil for the first time.
Mike explained why, despite the decline of wildlife in Britain, the beavers’ release shows it isn’t all doom and gloom.
Mike said: “A state of nature report came out a couple of years ago saying that a lot of British birds are in a terminal decline. In many ways Britain is a very nature depleted county. Despite the fact we are losing species and habitats are being degraded there are a lot of enthusiastic organisations and people that are trying to turn it around. There are lot of positive conservation stories and I think this is a really good example.”
He went on: “The beaver is a keystone species. Once its reintroduced, its completely converting the habitat to its own liking. So in the enclosure we saw, it will create a mozaic of habitats, it will create ponds, it will create ditches and that will give an opportunity for all manner of species to actually thrive.”
“Its great to have the species back in Essex. I think a lot of naturalists are really excited about important species like this and the white-tailed eagle and potentially the lynx up in Soctland. Bringing these animals back is really exciting. It is part of this bigger challenge which is all about trying to rewild and trying to turn back the clock and make Britian a better place for wildlife.”
The idea to bring beavers to Finchingfield came to Archie after he attended a talk on flood management 18 months ago.
So how does it feel now that the beavers are safe and sound?
“It is amazing,” Archie says, grinning, “It is one of those things you have been planning for such a long time and then it all happens and we’ve suddenly got the beavers on the estate and we’ve suddenly got all these people coming round going ‘ah this is great’ and you just think, ‘oh, oh we did it!’
“The approach of natual flood management is gaining momentumm all the time. In terms of pairing up the beavers, that’s something that’s slightly novel. I sincerely hope there will be other people that want to do it.”
The estate owner said: “Once the beavers have settled in we will be offering tours and photographic opportunities so people can get up close to these magical animals.”
Both Mike and Archie hope the mammals will produce offspring, known as kits, in late Spring. Watch this space.