The first beaver activity in an East Devon town has been confirmed.

On 3rd August 2021 a felled apple tree in Honiton's Millers Way community orchard was reported by a member of the local community. The Devon Wildlife Trust beaver ranger, Jake Chant inspected the site and confirmed the presence of at least one beaver in the Gissage.

Beavers have been living free in East Devon since 2008 and have been studied as part of Devon Wildlife Trust’s River Otter Beaver Trial since 2015. In August 2020, the UK Government gave permission for Devon’s beavers to stay – a landmark decision and the first to legally sanction the reintroduction of an extinct native mammal to England. The beavers are allowed to expand their range naturally, finding new areas to settle.

Devon Wildlife Trust’s Beaver Officer, Jake Chant, said:

Beavers sometimes build dams in streams to create deeper water. The deep water creates a safe underwater entrance to the beavers home, which is often a burrow in the bank.  We will regularly monitor the river to identify any activity which might pose a risk and take necessary steps to make sure it’s safe.

During the summer beavers mainly eat riverside vegetation and in the winter they are more likely to feed on the bark of trees. Tree guards and wire mesh are being put in place to protect some of the trees in the area.

If the beavers stay on the Gissage they’re likely to breed this winter and have kits in spring. I will be checking in on the beavers regularly.

James Chubb, East Devon District Council’s Countryside Team Leader, said:

Beavers on the River Otter have been observed to quickly grow accustomed to people and lose their shyness. This is great from a public enjoyment perspective, but people should remember that beavers see dogs as predators!  It’s important to keep your distance and keep dogs on leads. 

My colleagues and I at East Devon District Council’s Countryside Team will work extensively to inform and educate local people how to enjoy the beavers safely and give them due respect and that will start by getting into schools in the town.

Cllr Geoff Jung, East Devon District Council’s Portfolio Holder for Coast, Country and Environment, said:

We are delighted to see the expansion of beavers in our area.

We’ll work closely with partners at Devon Wildlife Trust, East Devon AONB and Honiton Town Council to ensure the beavers and the public are safe.

We will do everything we can to protect this new population of urban beavers, and officers will monitor and manage the beavers to make sure they remain safe and to record their activity in the river.

If people would like to get involved in helping to monitor the beavers and their habitat, or if they have concerns please email wild@eastdevon.gov.uk

Beavers were once native to Britain but were hunted to extinction in the 16th century for their fur, meat and scent glands, leading to the loss of the wetland habitat of lakes, mires and boggy places they were key to creating.

Wildlife experts are keen to return them to the landscape to help restore wetland habitats and boost other species, manage water and curb flooding, and create eco-tourism opportunities.