After an absence of over 400 years, the native Beaver is coming back to Sussex. These natural ecosystem engineers, which help so much with natural flood management, wildlife regeneration, water resources and water quality, were hunted to extinction in the UK in the 16th Century. Sussex Wildlife Trust recognises the important role that these nocturnal animals play in restoring the natural life support systems that we rely on, and we are working with local landowners to find appropriate sites for their re-introduction to Sussex.
In 2020, the Knepp Estate had a licence approved by Defra to introduce Beavers into a 250 ha partially fenced area of the Knepp estate in West Sussex. The National Trust also had approval to bring Beavers back to land on the edge of the South Downs. Two pairs of Beavers will be released into a dedicated area of Knepp, and at least two other pairs on National Trust land for a 5 year period, to see how they settle into and adapt their new environment. The Beavers will have plenty of space to roam free and to do what they do best.
Beavers and wetlands
The extinction of Beavers has had a profound effect on their former surroundings, and the health of our aquatic ecosystems. The Beaver re-introductions will use the natural instincts of a native animal as a tool for restoring important wetlands. 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.
Beavers as a keystone species
Beavers are a great example of how keystone wildlife species help to reverse other declines in wildlife, as well as helping to reduce pollution and siltation, increase natural fish stocks and more. Beavers play an integral part in buffering our landscapes from flooding and drought, and creating thriving wetland habitats for a whole range of other wildlife. Beavers are recognised as a ‘keystone species’ – a species without which whole ecosystems collapse. Bringing beavers back to Sussex will start to show us what a healthy Sussex wetland truly looks like.
Beavers and people
Sussex Wildlife Trust hope that local people and future generations can once again get to know these intriguing animals as a local Sussex species. Our intention is not to sustain an enclosed population of captive Beavers, but to investigate the potential for Beavers to be slowly re-integrated into our landscapes at a catchment scale. It has been a long time since Beavers have been part of our landscapes however, so we need to re-introduce people back to the Beavers too. Beaver reintroductions necessarily work closely with local landowners and others to inform them about the pros and cons of having Beavers in their landscape. These captive Beaver populations will enable us to show people what to expect, and how Beavers might transform our local landscapes. We also hope that people will give these quiet, nocturnal animals some space whilst they adjust to their new surroundings.
The Sussex Beaver Group
The Sussex Beaver Group is led by Sussex Wildlife Trust in partnership with the Knepp Estate, The National Trust, The University of Exeter, Beaver Trust, Southern Water, Natural England, the Environment Agency, National Farmers Union, The High Weald AONB, the South Downs National Park and the Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust. The aim of the group is to understand the impact of beavers in the Sussex landscape and to support others who may have an interest in applying for a licence.
Expert advice is provided by Mark Elliott of the Devon Beaver Trial and Roisin Campbell-Palmer, an independent Beaver consultant.