Centuries ago, London (and the rest of England) was teeming with wildlife. But most of it (including beavers) were hunted down or pushed aside by urbanization. But in recent years, London has been pushing rewilding efforts — and, as part of the efforts, a few beavers were released around the city. Now, scientists note the first baby beaver born in London in some 400 years.
Beavers make a stunning comeback
There was a time when the European beaver was common across much of Europe and Asia. In most places, however, they were hunted to extinction or near-extinction. In The UK, however, beavers were hunted even sooner. In the 16th century, the Elizabethan English loved beaver fur and meat so they hunted the entire population to apparent extinction.
But in 2013, a surprising video emerged of beavers on the aptly-named Otter River, in Devon, England. It’s not clear how the beavers got there in the first place, and authorities were planning on having them removed. But the Devon Wildlife Trust, the local branch of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, stepped in to help the beavers. Along with the researchers from the University of Exeter, they showed that the beavers had a positive impact on the environment.
Not only were the beavers allowed to stay in Devon, but other parts of the UK started looking at rewilding beavers as well. In 2021, beavers were also reintroduced to North London. Enfield council in London also began a beaver reintroduction programme last year and now, the population seems to be establishing itself.
This is good news not just for the beavers themselves, but for London too. Beavers provide a number of important environmental services, particularly in regards to environmental protection and coastal management. Enfield council’s cabinet member for the environment, Rick Jewell, said:
“The beavers’ hard work creating a natural wetland ecosystem will contribute to excellent flood defences, protecting the local area and hundreds of homes from flooding downstream to the south-east of the borough, while encouraging biodiversity.”
Not much is known yet about the Londoner baby beaver. Not even its sex has been established, but Capel Manor college, a special environmental college, is working with Beaver Trust NGO to give the beaver a comprehensive health check.
Ultimately, the goal is to help the beavers establish themselves over a 10-acre area in west London. People in London will be able to go on “beaver safaris” and see the animals, in addition to enjoying the environmental services the critters provide. In the meantime, the couple believed to be the parents have expanded their lodge and felled several trees, including a large willow that will regrow by shooting out new stems.
Beaver dams are popping up, a sign that the animals are starting to make London their home.
No doubt, there’s still more to come from the beavers.