Wildlife 'control' could mean the beaver is lost from the English landscape before it gets re-established, writes beaver expert Derek Gow, who is against their removal.
The beavers on the River Otter in Devon cannot know they are about to participate in a remarkable historic event, their removal at the hand of Defra's trappers which will ensure that they become the first ever native English mammal to have been exterminated by humans twice.
This sad scenario is unnecessary, unfair and ill-considered. The arguments advanced for their removal by Defra are threadbare. The principal contention that they may harbour a non-native tape worm – Echinococcus multilocularis (EM) – which can infect humans, is supported by the facile excuse that English habitats are unsuitable for beavers and that they have no licence to be there.
Defra's own vets are clear that only adult beavers imported directly from some central European countries can carry EM. In 2008 an independent feasibility study commissioned by Natural England indicated that many English river systems could provide ideal habitat for beavers. Nothing much has changed since then. Devon Wildlife Trust has agreed to apply for a licence for them to be there but despite this Defra are still insistent they must go. Why?
The only discernible clue is provided in the haste with which a letter from the Angling Trust to Owen Patterson on May 20 asking for their removal was answered positively by the minister responsible, Lord De Mauley, on June 26. It is the stated belief of some members of the Angling Trust that beaver dams will impede the migratory abilities of game fish species. This belief is incorrect as beaver-generated habitats create a rich living environment for both aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates.
To date despite media attention, representations to senior civil servants and ministers, national petitions with over 30,000 signatures Defra has, in my opinion, made no effort to attain or consider a balanced approach on this issue.