By Tony Ridd.
Our countryside is home to a vast array of wild animals and who doesn’t enjoy seeing, even glimpsing many of them. Although common, stoats are not often observed, but a joy to watch, as are hares or dormice, all elusive and emotive creatures living on our doorstep.
Introduction of new species to our island have been proposed and this can be the cause for excitement and concern. There will always be enthusiasts and critics, both with compelling arguments. The introduction of White-tailed Eagles provoked a renewed interest in birding for many; and with an awareness of nature comes the desire to protect it.
Beavers, it appears is next on the list. Although there is no evidence of beavers ever living on the Island, there are proposals to (re!)introduce this renowned landscape engineer. The nocturnal, shy and territorial rodent is more often betrayed by evidence of its activities rather than sightings. They are experts in their field and the goal is to establish wetland ecosystems in and around the Eastern Yar, spreading Islandwide.
The creation of new wetlands and naturalisation of the rivers can increase biodiversity, connect habitats, and help us to engage with nature. However, integration of people in the countryside does not always benefit nature, the enthusiasm of the general public can be detrimental to the wider natural environment and in creating these new wetlands they will destroy existing habitats, already home to other wildlife.
This needs to be done at scale and I’m not sure that the Island is big enough. One pair of beavers can require four kilometres of river to live, more if it is poor habitat. They are successful breeders and will soon outgrow their release areas taking up residence any where, there is a body of fresh water and food supply.
The trouble is, they don’t have any boundaries, beautiful as their new habitats can be there will also be elements of destruction.
The releasing body will remain financially responsible during their agreed licensing period, but this could be as little as five years. Beyond that, any cost associated with their engineering will fall, on the landowner if on private land, or for public land then the IW Council and Environment agency. The cost of repairing infra structure such as river paths and roads can easily run into the hundreds of thousands. Are we to expect a Beaver Surcharge on our Council Tax?
There have already been beaver releases around the UK and although initially well received, as the population grows and moves on, costly problems begin. As an island we have limited suitable space, they are almost impossible to restrict and are protected by law.
Highly acclaimed landscape engineers that they are, there are more measurable and consensual ways of creating the habitats desired, without the unwanted impacts.