The trial sets out to establish what impacts a free-living population of beavers might have and will recommend, on its completion in 2020, whether or not beavers should be allowed to continue living in the wild, and, if so, what management of their numbers and activities will be necessary in future.
Since the start of the ROBT, committee members of ROFA have participated in the trial’s ‘Fisheries Forum’, providing both challenge and expertise. In 2018, ROFA hosted a workshop reviewing the trial’s research into the impact of beaver activity on fish. This workshop was attended by experts from: Devon Wildlife Trust, Environment Agency, Southwest Rivers Association, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Westcountry Rivers Trust, and the Universities of Exeter and Southampton.
ROFA will continue to be closely engaged with these and other agencies on the subject, not just because of its importance to our fisheries on the Otter but also because of the national implications for salmonid species of more wide-spread beaver ‘re-introductions’.
From ROFA’s perspective, beavers raise a number of specific issues related to fish and fishing. Whilst noting there may be some potential benefits for fish from the activities of beavers (in terms of habitat improvement and water quality/hydrology etc) and that beavers are not ‘fish-eaters’, we are concerned in particular about:
Safety issues for anglers from the presence of beavers in the river (see this advice).
The effects of beaver dams on migratory and non-migratory fish passage, especially movement to and from important spawning areas.
The numbers of visiting ‘beaver watchers’ and the disturbance they can cause.
Taking each issue in turn:
As a result of ROFA’s requests, Devon Wildlife Trust have commited to producing a ‘Safety Notice for Anglers’, which will be available for 2019. We will create a link to this information as soon as it available. Anglers experiencing any untoward behaviour from beavers can report it to ROFA HERE and/or to the Devon Wildlife Trust.
A very important step was taken at ROFA’s workshop towards focussing further research on the prediction and management of potential conflict between the interests between beavers and fish. Work has now started in the ROBT on creating predictive models capable of identifying ‘red zones’ where beaver dam building and fish spawning/passage might come into conflict. This information can then be combined with methodologies for assessing and managing (by notching or removing) the potential obstruction presented by individual beaver dams. Whilst this is likely to be ‘work in progress’ at the end of the current trial, it looks to be a positive step towards minimising potential beaver/fish conflicts and putting in place appropriate management regimes, both here in the Otter and nationally. It is hoped this is an approach that would have public support and be one that can be kept relatively simple, practical and replicable elsewhere. The big issue that would remain is: who would have responsibility for and fund/undertake the work involved?
Again as a result of our input, notices have been put up by DWT at points where the public can access the riverbank asking beaver watchers to respect the rights of anglers and to minimise the disturbance they cause. Please report any instances of problems with this to ROFA HERE, including a full description of what happened.
In addition to this work, ROFA is contributing to other aspects of the ROBT such as the assessment of the economic impact on fisheries of beavers.
We will continue to be closely involved with this whole subject in order to help protect and enhance the river’s fish populations and our anglers’ interests.
Beavers on the River Otter
Following a release of beavers into the River Otter catchment by unknown parties some years ago, a population of European beavers has been living and breeding on the river. Currently beavers are not a protected species and are only allowed to continue living in the wild under temporary licence. Whilst that licence exists, the Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) is managing the beavers and undertaking the ‘River Otter Beaver Trial’ (ROBT).