Beavers being reintroduced to London as part of rewilding project
A second attempt to reintroduce beavers to London is to be made under plans to “rewild” the capital.
Conservation groups have received £39,154 in funding from City Hall to create a habitat for beavers in Paradise Fields in Greenford.
They are due to arrive in the Autumn, and will include a breeding pair and their infants, known as kits. This means that there could be as many as 10 Eurasian beavers at what will be the first publicly-accessible beaver habitat in London.
Londoners will be able to see the largely nocturnal animals in their new home when “beaver safaris” are launched. Beavers are most often spotted at dawn and dusk.
Beavers were hunted to extinction across the UK 400 years ago. Now the “charismatic” large rodents, famed for their dam building, are thought to be able to ease flooding brought on by climate change.
A first attempt to reintroduce beavers in London last year floundered when the male in a couple named Sigourney and Justin Beaver died of “natural causes” three months after arriving at Forty Hall farm in Enfield. A second male is thought to have been found to join Sigourney.
The new site, in Ealing, is being transformed into a “flourishing and immersive wetland” by Citizen Zoo, Ealing Wildlife Group, Ealing council and Friends of Horsenden Hill.
It is one of 22 projects sharing in almost £1 million of “rewilding” funds.
Dr Sean McCormack, a vet and conservationist with Ealing Wildlife Group, which he chairs, told the Standard that the go-ahead was “very, very exciting”.
He said: “They will be arriving in the Autumn. They’re breeding now - we want to leave them where they are at the moment.
“We ill be getting at least a breeding pair. They’re coming from Scotland, where they’re coming into conflict with farmers.”
The project has been licensed by Natural England. A wire fence will surround the eight hectare site to stop the beavers from escaping.
Unlike otters, which eat fish, the beavers are vegetarian and eat trees and vegetation.
There is a risk that kits can be targeted by foxes, badgers or otters or dogs. The adults, which can weigh up to 25kg, tend to be able to “look after themselves”, though are considered “shy” and will not approach humans.
Dr McCormack said: “They can take down large trees. These are definitely a wild animal you don’t want to approach. You definitely don’t want to get bitten by one.”
He said any beavers that escaped were easily caught - using a large humane trap box and a bait of apples. Those that will come to London would have been at risk of being shot in Scotland.
“Many people assume beavers are a wilderness species, when in fact we’ve just forgotten how closely we used to live alongside them,” he said. “We’re so excited to study how beavers interact with an urban river catchment and, crucially, with urban communities.”
The City Hall money will be used for ecological studies and to fund a member of staff and to cover equipment costs.
Ealing Wildlife Group is hosting an online talk on April 3 on the introduction of the beavers.
Others include bees in Bexley – in a “pollinator corridor” in Thamesmead – and the creation of a bat-friendly habitat at Beverley Brook in Barnes. Each winner is receiving £39,154.
At the same time, a taskforce established by Sadiq Khan has published a 47-page report identifying 11 potential “rewilding opportunity zones” of at least 100 hectares in outer London.
These include Enfield Chase – where the first beavers were reintroduced – Fairlop Plain to Dagnam Park, Colne Valley and Ruislip Woods, and Harrow Weald to Stanmore.
The report said: “If implemented properly, rewilding can help reduce economic and social costs associated with extreme weather… while bringing additional health and well-being benefits to Londoners.”
It proposed the return of animals to the capital such as Herdwick sheep, goats, English longhorn, Sussex cattle and Exmoor ponies.
In Ealing, volunteers have been spending their weekends fencing off the site and chopping down surrounding trees, to prevent the beavers being felled by the beavers and wrecking the fencing. Paradise Fields was chosen after a survey of 10 sites.
The London Beaver Working Group says the new habitat will “showcase the animals’ incredible abilities to create wetlands that support wildlife”, reduce flooding and filter pollutants and allow Londoners used to living alongside beavers once again.
Mr Khan, who made the funding announcement on World Rewilding Day, said: “Despite the harm inflicted on the natural world, we have the power to make amends, and I am committed to ensuring that London is at the vanguard of efforts to reverse the trends of declining biodiversity and the destruction of nature.
“We’re cleaning up our city, re-establishing lost species and reconnecting people and nature as we build a greener, fairer city for all Londoners.”
Nick Swallow, of Citizen Zoo, said beavers thrived alongside cities in Europe and North America. “We hope to challenge the perceptions of Londoners and demonstrate how London too can embrace these ecosystem engineers,” he said.