Norwegian beaver returns to Britain after 400 years

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The Independent Online

A rare Norwegian beaver is to be reintroduced to Britain for the first time in 400 years, in an attempt to revive the ecology of ancient wetland.

A rare Norwegian beaver is to be reintroduced to Britain for the first time in 400 years in an attempt to revive the ecology of ancient wetland.

Ten European beavers (Castor fiber) were flown in yesterday and after a period of quarantine will be introduced to east Kent as a "management tool" to improve the habitat. The Kent Wildlife Trust hopes the aquatic rodents donated by the Norwegian government will be able to emulate their success in projects elsewhere in Europe, by boosting water levels and vegetation.

The trust aims to confine them to a secret east Kent location by building a special beaver-proof fence around the reserve for the project's five-year trial period. They are also expected to be fitted with radio transmitters so managers can keep track of their movements.

Dan Attwood, a spokesman, said: "We regard this as a bold project designed to protect and restore a very special wetland habitat. During field trips to Norway and elsewhere in Europe, we have seen how beavers benefit their habitat in terms of influencing water levels and the vegetation. We believe they can do an excellent job for us, and minimise disturbance through reducing the need for human access."

He explained that to protect wildlife it was necessary to restore natural ecological systems. "This will need the use of 'keystone' species, such as beaver, to manage the natural processes that maintain our ancient ecological systems."

However, the organisation stresses that this is not a reintroduction project, unlike the proposed Scottish Natural Heritage scheme ­ which has yet to be approved ­ to release beavers into the wild in an area of Argyllshire.

Theresa Bennett of English Nature said: "We have given our support for the project because it is important the area is returned to fen-type habitat and it is felt the beavers will help to achieve this efficiently." She added that beavers were not liable to "wander off", but the special fence would confine them to the site.

The Environment Agency and local landowners had been consulted before approval was given. The trust is aware of concerns in some quarters and has stressed that beavers will help to save other British wildlife such as otters, water voles, dragonflies and marshland plants.

A spokesman said the beavers would not multiply out of control because they had a slow reproductive rate and self-regulated their populations. The trust added that there would be no danger to fish stocks as the beavers ate only plants and they would not change rivers because European beavers rarely built dams, unlike their North American cousins. Neither did they pose any threat to people or agriculture.