Government plans to capture 'wild' Devon beavers unlawful, says Friends of the Earth


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The Independent Online

A leading environmental charity has called for an “immediate halt” to Government plans to capture England’s only wild beaver population.

Friends of the Earth has written to the Environment Secretary Liz Truss to warn that plans to capture a beaver family on the River Otter in Devon “may be unlawful”.

The family of beavers were first caught on film last February in what environmentalists described as the first wild beaver sighting in England for hundreds of years. However earlier this summer, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it planned to trap the colony and transfer them to a zoo or wildlife park, arguing they are an invasive non-native species and could carry disease.

However Friends of the Earth claims that Britain forms part of the “natural range” of beavers and that removing them could be against EU laws governing protected species.

“Beavers belong in England, and are an essential part of our ecosystems – Government plans to trap them should be scrapped,” said Friends of the Earth Campaigner Alasdair Cameron. “Beavers bring huge benefits to the environment – reducing flooding and boosting fish stocks and biodiversity. Rather than try and get rid of them, we should be thrilled to have them back in our landscape.”

Defra says that the beavers, which are thought to have escaped from captivity, could potentially be carrying a rare parasite tapeworm found in the European beaver, called Echinococcus Multilocularis (EM). However earlier this year Derek Gow, an independent ecologist who studies beavers, told the Independent that he feared Defra was using the threat of the rare parasite as “smokescreen” to remove the animals

Friends of the Earth is calling on the Government to “listen to what local people are saying, instead of taking a knee-jerk response. Mr Cameron said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to study the return of a beautiful and iconic creature. The Government says it needs to remove these beavers because of the threat of disease, but that’s just an excuse. They are very unlikely to be carrying infection, having been born in the wild or already quarantined. In any case they could be easily tested and returned to the river.”

A Defra spokesperson said, “Beavers have not been an established part of our wildlife for the last 500 years and their presence could have a negative impact on the surrounding environment and wildlife. 

“These animals may also carry a disease which could pose a risk to human health. That is why we are taking precautionary action to test the beavers. Once captured and tested, we intend to rehome them in a suitable location, and all decisions will be made with the welfare of the beavers in mind. The capture and transporting of wild-living beavers can only be done with a licence, and one has been issued by Natural England. This action is entirely lawful.”

At a recent meeting in the nearby village of Ottery St Mary more than a hundred local people, including councillors, voiced their support for allowing the beavers to remain, with many that Defra is close to carrying out plans to trap the animals.

Local councillor Claire Wright told the Independent that she though Defra was being “obstructive” over the issues and that Defra was “ignoring calls even to even give a position on the animals being returned to the River Otter if they are captured”.

She said: “It is really shocking. The capture and testing program is totally unnecessary in my view the chances are so remote and the way Defra is behaving is nothing short of sinister.”

A spokesperson for Defra told The Independent that wildlife experts were still “investigating the best means and times to capture the beavers” and that “no timetable” for trapping exists.

However Farmer David Lawrence, who owns the land where the animals are regularly spotted, said that he understood that traps had been moved to the area and that locals were patrolling the riverbank twice a day. He said: “They are not going to be able to black ops them out of here.”