Kent Wildlife Trust, the first organisation to introduce beavers back into Britain, celebrates over 20 years of its Ham Fen project on International Beaver Day
Today (April 7) conservationists across the world will be singing the praises of the wetland restoration ecosystem engineer – the beaver.
International Beaver Day is an opportunity to raise awareness of nature’s rehabilitator, a species that naturally changes the environment around them, improving water quality and strengthening flood defences downstream.
The day also marks over 20 years since the reintroduction of the Eurasian beaver in Britain, when, in 2002, Kent Wildlife Trust released two beaver families onto Ham Fen nature reserve near Sandwich.
Ham Fen is the last surviving area of Fenland in Kent and provided the perfect environment for the beavers to thrive, they immediately begun to build dams, raise the water levels and improve the habitat.
Since then, the trust continued to work on the restoration of the site, with the introduction of water buffalo who, through their natural behaviours, widen the waterways and clear debris as they wallow.
After 20 years of being on the reserve, the positive impacts of the beaver’s work are clear to see. Water levels are higher, helping to restore areas of peat fen which are so valuable in locking up carbon. The combined rise in water levels coupled with the beaver’s natural coppicing has led to a diverse mosaic of open areas and scrub that provides the best conditions for fenland wildlife.
The beaver project at Ham Fen paved the way for other conservationists to launch similar programmes and now wild beavers have established themselves throughout the country.
In October 2022 Kent Wildlife Trust were delighted that, after years of campaigning, the European beaver finally became a protected species in England, following Scotland’s lead. This means that beavers have species-level protection, requiring a license to possess, and manage beavers and their lodges, burrows and dams. The trust would like to see the UK government removing the licence requirement for beaver reintroduction projects.
It would seem that beavers are going from strength to strength in Kent with a known population along the River Stour. In February, a confirmed sighting of a beaver at a country park in Ashford was described as a “hugely significant and exciting find” by experts.
The footage of the second largest rodent in the world was captured by a wildlife watcher who was testing his new camera at Conningbrook Lake Country Park and a follow-up visit by Kent Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency, confirmed there is evidence of wild beavers in the area.
Kent Wildlife Trust’s Amy Fitzmaurice said: “International Beaver Day provides the opportunity to reflect on how far we have come in restoring beavers back into our landscape, whilst also highlighting the work of the East Kent Beaver Advisory Group, who aim to create coexistence between beavers and people.
‘It is really important that we do everything to ensure their welfare, beavers are protected by law, it is illegal to kill them or damage their habitat. They are an amazing keystone species and are needed now more than ever. The State of Nature in Kent report concluded that 79% of Kent’s rivers did not meet the required standard under the Water Framework Directive and beavers have a significant role to play in changing that, their dams act as a natural filter, cleaning the water of silts and pollutants.
“We are fortunate to have laid the foundations for a healthy beaver population in the county and in 2022 in partnership with the Beaver Trust, established a citizen science programme working with the community to survey the beaver population in Kent. Anyone who is interested in taking part can find out more on our website.”
People wanting to learn more about beavers in Kent can purchase a Ham Fen beaver safari tour, or the bringing back the beaver book from the Kent Wildlife Trust Shop. Beaver themed clothing is also available.
Is the Fen open to the public
Several have been found in distress washed up on beaches and died through salt water ingestion. Some beaver species can thrive in coastal areas but not these.
It’s sad to see them like this.