Yorkshire’s busiest (and only!) family of beavers

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By Ed Snell

Back in April 2019, Forestry England released two beavers into an enclosure in North Yorkshire as part of Slowing the Flow at Pickering, a project that seeks to reduce flood risk and impacts on communities downstream.

Having visited the site before the beaver release and most recently at the beginning of October this year, it’s difficult to explain just how much Yorkshire’s only family of beavers have changed the landscape they live in. The two ponds in their enclosure (which are gradually being turned into one big pond) are holding a lot more water than before, the canopy is opening up and other species are being recorded at the site that have been absent for some time, such as noctule bats and teal ducks. It’s clear that these beavers really are ecosystem engineers, even after just a short time in their new home.

Forestry England ecologist, Cath Bashforth, has been monitoring activity in the enclosure using camera traps provided by NatureSpy. Cath makes weekly rounds to check on the cameras and move them to new spots, which is essential in an ever-changing environment like this with falling trees and shifting water levels. The video below is a compilation of camera trap clips from spring 2020. The beaver family now comprises two adults, two kits born in 2019 and two younger kits born earlier in 2020. You’ll also see that the beavers’ work to expand the ponds has supported a bumper spawn of frogs this year, much to the delight of herons, owls and otters!

Currently utilising about one third of the length of watercourse available in their enclosure, the family have constructed an impressive dam that’s around 5ft at its highest, tapering down to just a few inches at its lowest. It’s a patchwork of carefully placed branches, sticks, stones, silt and vegetation. Standing next to it you can hear water trickling through gaps that enable river life to pass up and down stream. Their dam is a work-in-progress, built by improvising with available resources, yet it looks remarkably intentional, like they have a master plan stashed away somewhere in their lodge. 

The big dam, around 5ft at its highest.
From 5ft at one end to just a few inches at its lowest, the beavers’ biggest creation is built to raise the water level.
The family’s lodge.
Travel between water bodies is easiest if you can slide on your belly in the mud, apparently.
Snack bar and work station
Teeth marks where bark (one of their preferred foods) has been nibbled away.

We can’t wait to visit the enclosure again next year to see how the family are getting on!