Baby Beaver Is First to Be Born on Moorland Area for 400 Years Thanks to Conservationists

A baby beaver has been born for the first time in 400 years in Exmoor, southwest England, as conservationists attempt to reintroduce the animal to the U.K.

Beavers were extinct in mainland Britain by the 16th century, targeted by hunters for their fur, meat and scent glands.

However, wildlife experts have pointed out that they can bring measurable benefits to the ecosystems they live in, so there has been a push over the past decade to return the water-dwelling mammals to the British countryside.

In January 2020, the U.K.'s National Trust charity released an adult pair of Eurasian beavers into Exmoor's Holnicote Estate.

The organization said the beavers could improve flood management as well as supporting wildlife in rivers.

"The dams they create will hold water in dry periods, help to lessen flash-flooding downstream, reduce erosion and improve water quality," the National Trust added.

Now rangers at the Holnicote Estate have found the pair of beavers appear to have started a family.

Jack Siviter, one of the rangers, told the Natural History Museum in London this week that they first suspected the beavers had mated when they noticed the male had become more active in the spring while the female had stayed out of sight.

Siviter added: "It was then several weeks until we spotted her again, and this is when our suspicions were confirmed that she had given birth, due to having very visible teats."

The National Trust said the baby beaver was the first to be born on Exmoor for 400 years.

The rangers had monitored the beavers using a remote camera set-up in their enclosure.

Ben Eardley, project manager for the National Trust at Holnicote, told the National History Museum that the adult pair had helped to create a "more open wetland complex" and had boosted the variety of wildlife in the 18 months since their introduction.

It's now expected that the family of beavers will stay together for a couple of years before the baby, also known as a kit, seeks out its own territory.

In February 2020, researchers at the University of Exeter published a report on a five-year study into the environmental effect of beavers introduced to the River Otter in the English region of East Devon.

The beavers were introduced as two breeding pairs, but their numbers had increased to at least eight pairs by the time the report was published.

The report found the beavers had reduced peak flood flows through a nearby village by constructing dams, cleaned water supplies by removing pollutants and increased fish numbers in areas where dams were built.

Richard Brazier, professor of earth surface processes at Exeter, said the positive impacts of the beavers had outweighed the negatives, though he noted that a reduction of flood risk downstream meant more water might be stored in farmland upstream.

In the U.S. the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection states that beaver dams may act as barriers for migrating fish and the animals' activity can sometimes threaten crops and property.

It is estimated that there are now more than 200 wild beavers living in Scotland, while a number of wildlife groups either have released or are planning to release more of the animals to enclosures in other parts of Britain.

Beaver chewing on stick
Stock photo of a beaver chewing on a stick. Research has found the mammals can bring benefits to environments in which they live. Christina Radcliffe/Getty