Work is now underway on a project that will see beavers return to Shrewsbury's Old River Bed nature reserve as part of a Shropshire Wildlife Trust 'urban release' trial.
Work has finally begun to create secure enclosure for beavers on a wetland site in Shrewsbury. The furry, semi-aquatic rodents are to be released on the Old River Bed nature reserve - hopefully later this year - as part of a Shropshire Wildlife Trust five-year trial.
The Trust is collaborating with Shrewsbury Town Council, which owns the reserve - and the hope is that the beavers will help to control the growth of willows and reduce their impact on the sensitive wetland habitat. Beavers' 'engineering' (they are known for building quite impressive lodges and dams!) should also improve water quality for other wildlife and slow the flow of water. Previously, the site has been managed using machinery and livestock - a costlier solution.
The Old River Bed is a protected Site of Special Scientific Interest to the north of Shrewsbury, encompassing fen wetland, woodland, wildflowers and hedgerow. It's part of the former bed of the River Severn, which was severed from the main course of the river since the last glaciation.
The Old River Bed nature reserve to the north of Shrewsbury where beavers are soon to be reintroduced (Credit Rachel Schofield)
It has the potential to become a great wetland habitat for insects, fish, birds and mammals, but the current ecosystem is impacted by the fast growth of trees, such as willow. Wetlands store more CO2 than woodlands, but if left unmanaged, the willow trees at the Old River Bed would soon outgrow other plants, dry the site out and impact its ability to store carbon. Beavers are a nature-based solution that will help the site flourish. It is anticipated that the trial will improve biodiversity at the site and result in better flood water storage.
The work is being carried out by Ainsty Timber Marketing (ATM Ltd). The new, rectangular enclosure will be around 8.5 hectares - nearly 16 football pitches - in size.
Jan McKelvey, conservation manager of Shropshire Wildlife Trust, said it would be a 'fantastic location' for the new beaver tenants, adding: “Beavers play an important role in restoring our wetland ecosystems and create naturally resilient networks of swamp and open water habitat. This is one of the first urban beaver enclosure trials outside of London and we are confident its success will have a positive impact for beavers in the future.”
She stressed that the security and welfare of the beavers and other wildlife is 'of paramount importance'. The fencing will go deep underground to prevent beavers from digging below it, with provision made for local badger movement, so they can move in and around the area safely. Wildlife and biodiversity monitoring will continue throughout the whole project.
The beaver enclosure build team - from ATM and SWT (Credit E Nickless)
There will be a 280m pedestrian boardwalk across the wetland area external to the enclosure on the south side to provide safe access for pedestrians to cross from Hubert Way on the east of the Old River Bed to the pathway on the west side.
Once the build has been completed, 'phase two' will see a pair, or family, of beavers introduced from another location. Part of this project will include education and engagement with the local community.
"The beaver translocation process is extremely specific to support their seasonal routines, which means we won't know the date beavers will arrive until later in the year," Jan explained. "Their welfare is our top priority, so bear with us, we’ll let you know as soon as we can."
Councillor Alan Mosley, leader of Shrewsbury Town Council, said: "We’re excited to be bringing beavers back to Shropshire after being absent from our county for so long. Beavers are a natural and sustainable solution to managing habitats. We spend a lot of time and money managing sites for nature, which beavers can do better and cheaper at the Old River Bed allowing us to focus funds on other countryside sites and habitat improvements elsewhere. I’m sure that there will be tremendous interest in the project from members of the public and the Town Council’s footpath extension and improvement works will provide access all around the site.
"The Shropshire Beaver Project has been made possible by experts and funders to whom we are extremely grateful. Thanks go to the funding partners including Severn Trent Water, Veolia Environmental Trust and Potter Group as part of the Landfill Communities Fund, Beaver Bridges and John Ellerman Foundation as well as the generosity of Shropshire Wildlife Trust members and supporters.
"England is one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries and beavers offer a chance to reverse the dramatic decline in our wildlife by allowing nature to restore itself. Release projects are already underway in several locations across England and Wales. They have proved to be hugely successful in managing wetlands more sensitively, enabling nature solutions to many environmental issues."
More information about Bringing Back Beavers to Shropshire can be found here: www.shropshirewildlifetrust.org.uk