DEFRA has announced new legislation that will provide legal protections for beavers in England, in a move that could pave the way for the animals to be released into the wild under licence.
UK Wildlife Trusts have welcomed the protections for “nature’s engineers”, calling for sensible management guidance and incentives for landowners to make space for beavers on their land.
Beavers are key to creating thriving wetland ecosystems, which are critical for climate adaptation.
The change in legal status will make it an offence to deliberately capture, kill, disturb, or injure beavers, or damage their breeding sites or resting places – without holding the appropriate license.
The legislation is scheduled to come into force in the autumn.
Natural England is also developing guidance on the management of beavers, setting out which actions will or will not require a licence, and where people can go for advice.
Beavers were the first native extinct mammal to be reintroduced to the British Isles since being hunted to extinction over 400 years ago.
In 2001 Kent Wildlife Trust, in partnership with Wildwood Trust, pioneered a project releasing beavers into an enclosed habitat in Ham Fem, Sandwich to see how they would change and enhance the landscape without intervention from humans.
The habitat has been greatly improved by their re-introduction, which has increased water quality through the filtering effect of their dams, and enriched the wetland habitat for other endangered species, including Water Voles and wetland birds.
Paul Hadaway, Director of Conservation, Kent Wildlife Trust said: “I am relieved that, after the delay, this has now been put before parliament and this positive development is testament to what can be achieved when we voice our concerns in unison.
“It is vital we have a clear legal framework if beaver populations are to recover and thrive. We need to embrace natural climate solutions now if we are to meet the challenge of the climate and nature crises.
“In Kent we have established the East Kent Beaver Advisory group bringing together government agencies, farmers, anglers and others to understand the role of beavers in our landscape, monitor them and their impacts.
“This is a step in the right direction, yet there is still more work to be done.”
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