Natural England’s decision yesterday to allow illegally-released beavers to remain in the wild for another 5 years could cause flooding and block the migration of struggling fish populations up and down rivers, experts claim.  

It reverses a clear commitment by the Secretary of State for the Environment last year to capture the animals which had mysteriously appeared on the River Otter in Devon.

The conditions for the trial have not yet been made public by Natural England, nor has the exit strategy been revealed for what Natural England will do in 5 years’ time if it is decided that the risks to fisheries, flood risk and landscape are too great to allow beavers to spread across the region and into the rest of the country, which now seems inevitable. 

Devon Wildlife Trust, which has campaigned for the beavers to be allowed to remain in the countryside, claims that all the animals will be radio-tagged, but it is not clear how their offspring will be tagged, and they will be able to colonise other rivers. 

Angling Trust Chief Executive Mark Lloyd said:“This is a very poor decision by Natural England that seems to be in conflict with government policy and sets a dangerous precedent.  The Angling Trust will be demanding a statement from this publicly-funded body explaining how it will manage the risks to fisheries, flooding and landscape and what it will do to recapture all these animals and their many progeny in 5 years’ time if the experiment is not successful.  Government agencies should not be carrying out hare-brained experiments with illegally-introduced species to rivers until they have tackled the massive problems with low flows, flooding, pollution, habitat loss and barriers to fish migration which are endemic in the nation’s waterways.”