After an absence of over 400 years, the beaver is coming back to Sussex.
These natural ecosystem engineers, which help so much with natural flood management and water quality, were hunted to extinction in the UK in the 16th Century.
But, thanks to The Sussex Beaver Trial, a partnership led by Sussex Wildlife Trust and the rewilding project at the Knepp Estate near Horsham, there will be a re-introduction of two pairs of beaver in either late spring 2020 or in the autumn, in Knepp’s Southern Block.
The beavers will be released under Natural England licence in two locations within a large enclosed area for a five-year period to see how they settle into and adapt to their new environment. The beavers will have over 250 hectares of land, including extensive swathes of willow, available to them, where they can roam and do what they do best – natural coppicing and natural flood management.
Beavers are extraordinary hydrological engineers, able to build leaky dams and lodges, and create channels and deep pools. This activity will provide natural flood management benefits within the Adur catchment, as well as maintaining a base flow of water in drought conditions.
Isabella Tree, co-owner of Knepp Estate said ‘This is a dream come true for us. We know beavers are one of the biggest influences missing from our landscape. Not only are they masters of water management, they’re hugely beneficial to biodiversity. Insects, birds, aquatic plants, fish will all gain from the intricate habitats they create. I am longing for the day when I hear a beaver tail slapping on Hammer Pond.’
Fran Southgate of the Sussex Wildlife Trust said, ‘At least 80% of the UK’s natural wetlands have been damaged or destroyed in the past, and in Sussex it is probably closer to 95%. Wetlands are some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet, and are fantastic carbon sinks, helping to buffer us against climate change too. Bringing beavers back to Sussex will start to show us what a healthy wetland should truly look like.
‘These beaver re-introductions will use the natural instincts of a native animal as a tool for restoring important wetlands. Beavers are a great example of how keystone wildlife species (a species without which whole ecosystems collapse) help to reverse other declines in wildlife, as well as helping to reduce pollution and siltation, increase natural fish stocks and more.’
Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England said ‘It is great to see Sussex getting beavers back into the countryside and the formation of new partnerships to support nature’s recovery.’
The beaver releases are being monitored as part of a national project, with specialist ecologists advising. Another licence has also been granted by Natural England for a beaver release on land owned by the National Trust on the edge of the South Downs.
The Sussex Beaver Trial is led by Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Knepp Estate, working in partnership with The University of Exeter, Southern Water, Natural England, the Environment Agency, National Farmers Union and the Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust. Expert advice is provided by Mark Elliott of the Devon Beaver Trial and Roisin Campbell-Palmer, an independent beaver consultant.