Beavers are being reintroduced to an enclosure in Hampshire, marking the first time in 400 years that they have lived in the county in south-west England.
A few of the semi-aquatic mammals are released on the Ewhurst Park estate, which is being restored for nature and sustainable food production.
The 374-hectare (925-acre) estate near Basingstoke is owned by environmentalist, entrepreneur and model Mandy Lieu, who has previously spoken of her commitment to “an estate-wide biodiversity transformation”.
Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust has invited 22 schools in the province to take part in a competition to name the two beavers.
Lieu sees the beavers as an important part of transforming Ewhurst into an “edible landscape” that restores nature at the same time as producing food. She has worked with experts to prepare the land for the beavers and build an enclosure for them to meet current licensing regulations. She also talked to local farmers and residents about the beavers and the changes they can bring to the landscape.
Beavers were hunted to extinction in Britain 400 years ago for their fur, glands and meat. They have started to appear after the government licensed beaver spending within castes, as well as illegal spending taking place around the country. Some experts suggest there are hundreds of beavers living along England’s waterways.
In 2021, beavers received legal protection in England, making it illegal to kill or harm them, as they are formally recognized as native wildlife. Environmentalists hope the upcoming beaver strategy will pave the way for this beloved rodent to be released to roam the wild.
Beavers are known as a “keystone species” because they create new wetlands that are used by other species, including dozens of bird species and insects.
A growing body of evidence from reintroduction sites also shows that beaver dams slow the passage of water through landscapes, reduce flood risk downstream and also conserve water during times of drought.
Lieu said she was delighted to bring beavers back to Hampshire after 400 years. She said: “It has been a very rewarding journey learning about what beavers need, how they will affect the environment around them and the benefits they will bring to other animals and plants.
“These beavers are not just for Ewhurst, but for the whole community and local area for generations to come.”
Dr Roisin Campbell-Palmer, the head of restoration at Beaver Trust, said: “We are really pleased to see another county providing a home for beavers as part of the species’ restoration efforts across Britain.
“We are working towards their continued return to the wild, with appropriate licensing and management frameworks, but in the meantime, enclosures like the one here at Ewhurst remain an important part of the restoration story.”