Frequently asked questions

1. Are Beavers native to the UK and Sussex?

  • Beavers are a native species to Britain and were lost from our wetlands a few hundred years ago
  • Eurasian Beavers (Castor fiber) occur naturally across Europe and much of Asia
  • Eurasian beavers were hunted to extinction in the UK for their fur, meat and castoreum
  • All Beavers which have been released into Sussex so far have been sourced from UK-born Beavers
  • There is good archaeological evidence of Beaver presence in Sussex
  • There is also a North American species of Beaver (Castor canadensis), these are not native to Britain and are not the species that we will be re-introducing

2. Why Beavers?  

  • Beavers are a “keystone species” which play an important role in restoring British wetland ecosystems. They naturally create resilient networks of prime wetland habitat, which in turn produces natural capital benefits such as flood relief and benefit a wide range of species including amphibians, fish and bats
  • Beavers instinctively engineer watercourses to create deeper water so they can escape from predators and explore their territories. Where there is no existing deep water, they will create pools using small dams
  • Multiple trials, including the Scottish Beaver Trial and the River Otter Beaver Trial have demonstrated the huge improvements to wildlife, water quality, flood reduction, sediment reduction and more brought about by Beaver activity
  • There are habitats specifically created by Beavers that are lacking in Britain, including beaver meadows, beaver dams and flooded wet woodland.
  • Beavers can play a key role in increasing woodland, wetland, open water and riparian vegetation and wildlife diversity
  • Estimates suggest that at least 80% of our wetlands in Sussex have been destroyed, and much of the remaining 20% is heavily damaged and/or managed.
  • Wetlands are some of the most important habitats for supporting wildlife, and as such, their restoration is crucial to the restoration of a healthy living landscape.
  • In a 2.8 hectare enclosure in the Devon Beaver Trial , in 7 years, Beavers : -  
    • Created 650 m² of open water
    • Increased water storage from 50 m³ to 1000 m³
    • Reduced the flood peak by 30%
    • Increased the time for floods to flow through the site from 15 mins to 1 hr
    • Enhanced the summer baseflow (mitigating drought)
    • Had 3 x less sediment leaving the site than entering it
    • Trapped 70 kg per m² of sediment - of which 70% entered the site as run off from just a 20 ha piece of land upstream.
    • Had 5x less Phosphate pollution leaving the site
    • Increased frogspawn clumps from <20 to >600
    • Stored around 15 tonnes of carbon in 13 ponds

3. What is a keystone species?

A keystone species is a species which plays a unique and critical role in the way an ecosystem functions, or in the structure and health of a habitat. The presence of keystone species determines the types and numbers of other species found in that environment. Without keystone species, the habitat is dramatically different, usually far less healthy, and in many cases, ceases to exist altogether. An analogy is the keystone in a brick arch. If you remove the keystone then the arch collapses. When Beavers were removed from Britain, the habitats, species, and ecosystem services they supported collapsed.

4. How do Beavers reduce flooding and drought?

  • Beavers can have a number of positive effects on Natural Flood Management, making rivers less prone to flash floods, reducing flooding by holding water in ‘the right place’ in river headwaters, and enabling the slower release of water in drier periods.
  • The University of Exeter studied the impacts of Beavers on water flows and hydrology on the River Otter. The results are remarkable and show that there is an overall net gain in positive Natural Flood Management when Beavers are present.
  • It is important to differentiate between the storage of water by Beavers in river headwaters, and the impact of Beavers on low lying land. In some lowland areas, culverts and drainage systems, some of which are critical to reducing flood risk, need to be kept clear of Beaver infrastructure and dams.
  • There will be low lying agricultural or developed areas in floodplains where Beavers may need to be actively discouraged from damming in case this causes unwanted flooding.
  • The majority of negative flood impacts with Beavers can be mitigated by giving space to water or installing devices to divert water away from a problem area.
  • In the event of an emergency relating to flooding, please contact the EA 24hr Floodline 0845 988 1188. Any emergency relating roads or other highways, call 0845 155 1004 or 0345 155 1004.

5. Are the Beavers captive or wild? 

  • The current Beavers in Sussex at the National Trust and Knepp Estate sites are captive, and are in fenced enclosures of 15 ha and 2 ha, respectively. Landowners and neighbours in both catchments have been consulted about the Beavers
  • There is a small chance the Beavers may escape from the existing enclosures (i.e. during a storm). Risk assessments have been carried out and mitigation measures put in place to limit the chances of this happening. If you think you see an escaped beaver, please contact [email protected] / 01273 494777

6. Where are the Beavers in Sussex living? 

  • Beavers are currently living on a quiet sub-catchment of the Adur river, and land owned by the National Trust on the edge of the South Downs National Park. Further licence applications have been accepted for Beaver releases in Sussex, so we expect to have more Beaver sites in the near future.

7. How should we behave around Beavers?

  • Beavers are nocturnal. If you know you are near a Beaver territory during the day, please be as quiet and behave as unobtrusively as possible
  • Please respect landowners and avoid disturbance to Beavers by sticking to public footpaths and by following the Countryside Code
  • Please keep dogs on leads. Although Beavers are not aggressive, if attacked by a dog in their territory, particularly if they have young, they will fight back – and they have big teeth!
  • We are keen to create sanctuary areas where Beavers can live and breed undisturbed, and where there are no footpaths, so please avoid trespassing
  • Always keep your distance and view Beavers through binoculars. Never approach or disturb a Beaver lodge.
  • Beavers are now a protected species in the UK and it is therefore an offence to:
    • deliberately disturb a beaver - this includes any action likely to impair their ability to survive, breed or rear their young
    • deliberately injure, capture or kill a beaver
    • damage or destroy the breeding site or resting place of a beaver
    It is also an offence to:
    • possess, control or transport a beaver
    • sell or exchange a beaver
    • offer a beaver for sale or exchange

    This applies whether the beaver is alive or dead and includes beaver parts and derivatives.

8. Do Beavers carry diseases such as Bovine Tuberculosis?

  • The Beavers restored to Sussex are health checked to make sure that they do not carry any infectious parasites or diseases, and that they are fit for release both from a disease and a welfare perspective.
  • Beavers are all certified healthy and free of any significant diseases, including the tapeworm Echinococcus and Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) before release
  • There is no evidence from Europe to suggest that Eurasian Beavers carry bTB. As most mammals can be infected by bTB it is theoretically possible for Beavers to become infected if they are exposed in English landscapes. Scotland – where a number of Sussex Beavers are being sourced from – is currently bTB free. DEFRA has agreed that Scottish Beavers therefore do not need to be tested for bTB.

9.  How will we be ensuring the health and welfare of the Beavers?

  • Beavers will be sourced from wild living populations - UK-born animals from Scotland, and other wild or fenced populations where translocation is needed to preserve Beaver welfare and genetic integrity
  • All trapping, translocation and screening processes are undertaken by a team of experts, including wildlife vets
  • The project partners include Beaver experts from Devon, Scotland and the Beaver Trust who advise us on how to ensure that the Beavers remain healthy
  • We have provided professional vets with details of Beaver healthcare, and these vets can be called in in case of concerns for Beaver welfare
  • Key local stakeholders have been trained in Beaver welfare and handling
  • If necessary we will limit human access to key Beaver sites to avoid distress to the animals, particularly when breeding
  • Some Beavers that we are translocating to Sussex would otherwise have been persecuted or shot by landowners in their region of origin
  • Beaver licence holders (those with licences for release) are legally required to take responsibility for Beaver welfare under their licence conditions
  • Beaver numbers and the resources available to them will be monitored to ensure animal wellbeing continues to be sustained.

10. How quickly do Beavers breed?

  • Beavers breed once a year, and have an average of 3 kits (babies)
  • Beavers only breed at 2-3 years old
  • Beaver kits are vulnerable to predation by foxes, birds of prey and possibly otters – so not all kits survive
  • When first released, adult Beavers initially colonise relatively rapidly over large distances (if not limited by fenced enclosures)
  • Once territories are established, population numbers only rise slowly
  • Beavers live in strict family groups, with only the dominant pair breeding
  • At high densities, territorial behaviour regulates Beaver populations. This is unlikely to occur for quite a number of years in Sussex as Beaver populations are at such low densities.
  • Some Beaver youngsters may choose to stay at home and help their parents rather than breed themselves when populations are at higher densities
  • Beavers have territorial battles, in which they will sometimes kill their rivals
  • If Beaver territories ever become saturated, we may need to re-home older offspring

11. Do Beavers eat fish?

  • Beavers are entirely vegetarian (herbivorous) and don’t eat fish. Their presence has generally been shown to be very positive for fish numbers, biomass and species.
  • The natural wetland habitats that Beavers create often help to increase fish populations.
  • Concern is expressed by some about the ability of Atlantic Salmon and Sea Trout to get over dams. The science suggests that long term benefits generally outweigh any localised short term impacts. Indeed, Sea Trout have already been found in one of the Sussex Beaver enclosures
  • Woody material is a natural part of river systems and fish have migrated through these obstructions for millennia, including when Beavers were last widespread in Britain, centuries ago
  • Man-made obstructions have a far greater impact on migrating fish populations.
  • We work with other organisations to improve fish habitat and fish passage across Sussex.

12. What do Beavers eat?

  • Beavers coppice trees to create dams. Sometimes this is perceived as eating. Many of the trees Beavers cut for damming, are species like willow which will grow and re-root where they are ‘planted’ by the beaver
  • In summer, Beavers graze mostly on riverside plants and grasses. In winter they feed mostly on tree bark and shoots
  • Beavers like to eat willow and aspen trees, and to a lesser extent, alder. They will take fruit trees (particularly apple) and poplar trees if these are close to watercourses, and will leave the water to find these trees.
  • Beavers tend not to move far from fresh water so impacts are often very close to the riverbank, generally within 30m
  • Most native trees will naturally re-sprout when cut (coppicing). However in some instances browsing by deer and livestock, or flooding will prevent trees from re-growing
  • Special trees can easily be protected from beaver activity, using wire netting or a mixture of latex paint and sand. 

13. Do Beavers prefer certain tree species?

  • Beavers have a definite preference for certain trees. Preferred tree species include alder, aspen, apple, birch, cherry, cottonwood, poplar and willow. Aspen/poplar and apple are their favourite
  • If the supply of their preferred trees is low they will harvest oaks and some maples
  • Conifers such as pines, hemlocks, etc. are their least favourite
  • Sometime they will girdle (remove the bark around the entire base) conifers for an unknown reason. One possibility is to obtain important dietary nutrients.

14. Do Beavers harvest more trees at certain times of year?

  • There tends to be a large initial cut when Beavers first arrive in their new enclosure, which can be alarming for some people to see
  • As Beavers settle in for the first few months you may notice trees being cut as they build shelters and dams. Most of this is coppicing from which the trees will readily regrow
  • You may notice that Beavers cut down more trees in late autumn. This is because they are stockpiling a food cache for the winter
  • Beavers do not hibernate, so they plan ahead and store a cache of edible sticks underwater near their lodge in order to be able to eat if their ponds freeze. Once a pond is frozen over and they can no longer access new trees, they will swim out of their lodge, grab an underwater stick, and bring it back to the comfort of their lodge to eat the bark
  • Remember that tree coppicing can look bare in winter, but that it will promote lush regrowth in the spring – a way of Beavers helping to regenerate their own food supply

15. How far from water do Beavers cut trees? 

  • Beavers are well adapted to water and evolved over millennia to use water as a means of moving around, and as a defence from predators
  • While surprisingly fast over short distances, Beavers do not like to travel too far from the water to cut down a tree
  • Most trees that Beavers cut down are within 30 metres of a watercourse
  • If Beavers deplete the supply of their preferred food trees close to a pond’s edge they may raise the height of a dam to bring the pond closer to more distant trees, or create a series of further dams to access other areas for foraging
  • Another engineering method Beavers employ is to excavate canals from the pond in the direction of the trees they wish to harvest. Once a tree is toppled they are able to cut off and transport the smaller branches safely to the pond using their canal
  • Beaver are “Nature’s Engineers” and much of their tree felling is of trees such as willow and poplar which will naturally coppice and regenerate after felling

16. What does the Sussex Beaver Partnership mean for people?

It is important that those involved in the Sussex Beaver Partnership are open and reactive to pragmatic discussions with anyone that approaches them about Beavers. Beaver management perceptions and issues change over time. We are regularly in touch with all those who will be involved with or potentially affected by the existing Beaver enclosures in Sussex.

A range of natural capital benefits (natural benefits to the wellbeing of Society) will be provided by restoring Beavers to Sussex. They include: -

  • Flood regulation
  • Water purification
  • Water regulation
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Soil formation
  • Erosion control
  • Ecotourism and Access to Nature
  • Ecological diversity

17. Where do the Sussex Beavers come from? 

Beavers for the both the Knepp and National Trust releases have been sourced from conflict areas around the Tayside catchment in Scotland. Wild Beaver populations have existed there for at least 15 years and in some areas of low laying, prime agricultural land are leading to land-use conflicts. Under the Scottish Natural Heritage Beaver Mitigation Scheme some landowners qualify for lethal control licenses. As an alternative, trapping and relocation can be offered. The Sussex Beaver Partnership projects can potentially provide homes for individuals, pairs or small family groups which would otherwise be euthanised in Scotland and elsewhere.

All Beavers are live trapped by experienced ecologists and held for a short time for full health screening, before being transported to their new homes.

18. How will we be working at a catchment scale / in the longer term?

  • All the partner organisations of the Sussex Beaver Partnership agree that the long term re-introduction of Beavers to river catchments will, overall, have positive benefits to wildlife and to society
  • We also agree that making catchments ‘Beaver-ready’ by creating Beaver buffers around rivers and streams, installing leaky dams for natural flood management and consulting with landowners etc. is important
  • Following Government Guidance, the Sussex Beaver Partnership is reviewing the options for wider catchment restoration of Beavers on the River Adur, the Ouse and other catchments in Sussex
  • The Sussex Beaver Partnership agrees that free living Beavers rather than Beaver enclosures are the preferred option
  • Any Catchment scale Beaver release will be subject to widespread public consultation prior to introduction
  • We acknowledge that free-living Beaver populations are likely to have many positive impacts on mitigating the long-term effects of climate change
  • The Sussex Beaver Partnership is however a voluntary conglomerate of stakeholders and we have no legal powers to either permit, or refuse permission for Beaver re-introductions, i.e., on private land
  • The partners of the Sussex Beaver Partnership includes Government organisations, Non Government Organisations, water companies, private landowners, farming interests and research institutions
  • If you would like to talk to Sussex Wildlife Trust about Beavers, please contact us on 01273 494777

19. What would managed intervention for Beavers look like?

  • Any Sussex Beaver Project will follow National guidelines on Beaver Management
  • There are a series of steps that can be taken by licensed individuals which can help to manage Beaver presence and mitigate any potential negative impacts they may have. Our Sussex landscapes are also naturally self-limiting, as there are only certain types of (wet) land that Beavers will colonise.
  • Some of the simplest methods of management intervention for Beavers include :-
    • - Placing wire netting or sand paint around trees to prevent beaver browsing or coppicing
    • - Creating Beaver Buffers around rivers and streams, which give space both for Beavers and for wildlife, flooding and more.
    • - Modifying or removing dams less than 2 weeks old
    • - Modifying or removing a Beaver day rest
    • Sussex Beaver Partnership hopes to help offer advice on Beaver mitigation techniques if needed
    • If Beavers are not allowed to stay in their enclosures or be released into the wider catchment, they will be rehomed following advice from Beaver experts and discussions with Natural England
    • As Beavers start to reach carrying capacity in their current enclosures, continual monitoring will identify older offspring that may not find a territory on their own. Any individual displaying signs of increased dispersal attempts, no longer being accepted within their family unit, or showing signs of requiring more (food) resources will be removed
    • For welfare reasons, because of their territoriality, it is not ok to leave too many animals in enclosures once obvious evidence of overpopulation begins to show
    • At this point, decisions will be made about what to do with the excess Beaver population. There are a range of options which will be considered in this case including: -
      • - Opening up other areas of land on existing sites to Beavers (the most likely option)
      • - Taking Beavers to other areas of land on the same catchment, or another Sussex catchment, where their release has been approved
      • - Providing (licenced) seed populations of Beavers for other projects in Britain 

    20. Can we see the Beavers?

    • Beavers live in burrows dug into river and pond banks. They sometimes live in lodges built out of sticks and mud. They are mostly nocturnal (active at night). They can be seen emerging or returning to their lodges at dusk and dawn, times when they are actively feeding, grooming and patrolling their territories
    • The reintroduced Sussex Beavers will need time to settle in, breed and establish their new territories. Minimal disturbance is critical at this time
    • All visitors to a Beaver site are encouraged to follow the Countryside Code and stay on designated footpaths with professional guides, not to trespass, to keep dogs on leads and not to disturb wildlife
    • There will be limited public visits to see the Beavers unless the owners of the sites where they reside consider that this can be done without impacting the Beavers' behaviour, welfare and territory
    • There may be Public Rights of Way through Beaver enclosures. We ask you to remain on these footpaths at all times to limit the amount of stress placed on Beavers.

    22. Can we volunteer to help the Beavers? 

    • There are a number of different ways that volunteers can help Beavers.
      These include :-
      • Helping to monitor the animals themselves (dawn and dusk)
      • Helping sort through trail cam footage
      • Helping with social media & YouTube footage
      • Helping to monitor fence lines
      • Helping with other wildlife monitoring on Beaver sites
      • Helping with fixed point and drone photography
      • Helping us to fundraise
      • GIS mapping of future beaver potential across Sussex
      • Be a Beaver advocate & help people learn about Beavers 

    23. If I see a Beaver, who should I contact?

    • If you see a Beaver outside the Knepp enclosure on the River Adur, call 01403 741234
    • If you see a Beaver outside the National Trust enclosure near the South Downs, call 01428 652359
    • If you see a Beaver anywhere else in Sussex, please let Sussex Wildlife Trust know on 01273 494777
    • Please take careful note of any ear tags, and let us know the time, date and location of where you saw them, or their feeding evidence. If you can send a photo too, that helps

    24. How long can the Beavers stay?

    • The current Beaver sites have been granted a 5 year licence, both of which are more than half way through. It is likely that extensions to these licences will be granted if Natural England decides that Beavers are allowed to remain
    • We will put clear exit strategies in place in the event that the impacts of the Beavers are considered to be unacceptable to the majority of key stakeholders. This would involve the partnership / Natural England rounding up the animals and bringing them back into captivity

    25. Can we donate to the Beaver projects?

    The Sussex Beaver Partnership and the new Sussex Species Recovery Officer role is a big financial and staff commitment for all those involved and particularly for Sussex Wildlife Trust who host the Partnership / Officer

    • Sussex Wildlife Trust is a small charity dependent on donations and membership. If you would like to support a Sussex Beaver project financially, please see our donation pages or contact us on 01273 494777

    26. Who do we contact for more information?

    27. What monitoring is being carried out of the Beaver trial?

    Significant baseline monitoring has been put in place on Sussex Beaver release sites. Other national research has studied the impacts of Beavers on the ecology, hydrology and landscape of various British landscapes.

    Each individual Beaver release site has an agreed set of monitoring protocols set out in their licence agreement. Most sites are carrying out additional monitoring to their licence requirements. Some surveys include :-

    • Harvest mouse nest searches
    • Bird surveys
    • Aquatic plants surveys
    • Invert Kick sampling
    • Environment Agency electro-fishing survey
    • Bryophyte surveys
    • Bat surveys
    • Aquatic invert sampling
    • Great Crested Newt eDNA collection
    • Flow gauge data collection including control site + weather station data collection
    • Drone photography
    • Fixed point photography
    • Adur wide feasibility mapping (part of UK mapping project)
    • Exeter university national Beaver site monitoring
    • Scrub & tree cover digitization
    • Conchological studies.
    • Beaver behaviour and ecology