A Focus On Nature

Issues in conservation

The Day the Beavers Returned to Cornwall

A cloudless sky is something to celebrate even in supposedly sun-soaked Cornwall. An even rarer event here is a beaver release, and for many of us involved, we played witness to the event with a sense of euphoric, almost dream-like disbelief. This was actually happening.


A beaver (Castor fiber) – photo by Jack Hicks

There was the expected on-the-spot and perhaps semi-improvised organisation ahead of the event. On a normal working day, this would have perhaps left us burnt out and ready to snap at the next person who asked for the direction to the lavatory. But as we welcomed guests and directed them towards tea, it was all done with a wide, genuine, smile that may have made one question whether we’d hit the cider early.

After their hot journey down the A30, our efforts to move them in their crates into the cool shade close to the release site was done with minimum stress, and the beavers themselves were remarkably placid as they waited patiently to be let out into their new home. No matter how many times I’ve seen them, there’s an endearing, somewhat intellectual charm from these animals you rarely see in any other rodent (not surprising when you consider the complexity with which they construct their dams and lodges), and as we moved his crate onto the grass beneath an alder copse, the male considered us with toothy grins behind his huge incisors with the air of an overweight quiz show host.

As the pen tick-offs on the guest list became fewer however, the moment was imminent. Ensuring plenty of hush was in order, the guests were lined up on the other side of the pond from where the beavers were due to be unleashed. Bar the odd whisper, the wind in the willows and the calls of wrens and swifts above, a silence of anticipation took hold over us all.

And then, like royals being carried by their underlings on thrones, the beaver crates were hauled out from the shade into the glorious sunshine, and a bankside that slipped away into the waters of freedom. As the crates were lowered close to the waters edge, the front-grilles were lifted by Chris & Janet Jones – the owners of Woodland Valley Farm, and the minds who came up with the project in the first place. And in seconds, the two beavers waddled out of their temporary confinement. Were it not for our oath of quiet, I’m sure there would have been gentle applause.

Normally when an animal is released, it bolts never to be seen again, and indeed previous beaver releases have resulted in the animal gently tobogganing into the water and slipping quietly out of sight. Not these ones. First they ambled ponderously around the bank, sniffing the dandelions and gorse like an elderly couple patrolling their garden, and actually begun heading back towards the crates. After a bit of gentle ushering towards the water, they realised what they were meant to do and slipped in with a satisfying lunge that almost made us envious on a hot day like this.

Rather than bee-lining straight for the cover away from our eyes, they then decided to swim along the banks literally inches from the feet of their adoring public. Frequent pit stops were made, especially around those with camera equipment. GoPros and tripods were of particular interest, prudently sniffed and pawed as if they were investigating the next potential meal!

The beavers became hypnotists that lured us all into adoration for them as they placidly paddled lengths in their new watery home, and with each dive underwater still remained visible in the sunlight, metamorphosing into caramel torpedoes that took on a new elegance unseen in their land-based locomotion.

If there were one word to describe our mood at that moment, ‘enchanted’ would be pretty apt. A forgotten past was unfolding before our eyes into a bright new future for wildlife on our doorstep. A small step in the direction of a new, richer, more exciting nature for the 21st century.

After tea and cake and congrats had been made, the core beaver team hung on for a well-earned meal and cider in the sun, that continued long into the night. As Derek (the beaver handler) lead us all with booming prowess in singing Scottish folk songs, I briefly moved away from the farmyard to take in the summer night. The stars shone like silver flecked wildly on a blue-black canvas, their light sometimes dashed with the dark flash of a bat overhead. Meanwhile the sound of songs first written when beavers were on their last legs in Britain continued to ring out from the courtyard below.

Right now I knew they were down there, in the other direction, at the bottom of the valley. Perhaps they were building their first dam. As I took in a deep breath of the fresh Cornish night air, I grinned in the overwhelming feeling that we had done something right.

Peter Cooper is studying for an MSc in Biodiversity and Conservation at the University of Exeter’s Cornwall Campus. He is the Mammal Representative on the AFON Committee, and worked to assist the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Woodland Valley Farm to bring beavers back to Cornwall. Keep updated with Peter’s blog here https://petecooperwildlife.com/, and follow him on twitter @PeteMRCooper.