Beavers born in the backwoods

Beavers born in the backwoods

Trailcam footage recorded in July at a secret location in Dorset showed a beaver kit making its first foray outside the lodge. Nosing between nettles, it felt its way over a fallen twig before turning back at the bank’s edge. Mother was close behind, and the baby embraced her with its forepaws as she squeaked reassurance.

Even more exciting, the latest video evidence reveals that there are two kits in this litter. They are believed to be the first born in the county for 400 years, and are the offspring of a pair of Eurasian beavers (Castor fiber), reintroduced from Scotland as part of a five-year project managed by the Dorset Wildlife Trust. In February 2021, an adult male and female were released into a large enclosure in a remote, marshy valley filled with alder and willow.

The kits spent their first weeks inside the lodge, a massive, domed heap of branches and soil resembling a giant woody nest. The interior is above ground, but accessible only through an underwater passage. Purple loosestrife sprouts crazily from one side, its magenta spears the only streaks of colour in the thick green of late summer.

Beavers like to hide by submerging themselves completely in deep, still water and they build dams to create the conditions that they need to feel safest. This pair has made four so far, creating a large pool around the lodge, plus three smaller ponds and gulleys.

The dams are a complicated weave of dead twigs and branches infilled with fresh-cut hazel and wads of hemlock water dropwort (Oenanthe crocata). Using their strong forearms and hand-like paws, the adults have reinforced the structure with boulders, hunks of turf and slabs of mud, working around living trees and incorporating fallen trunks. Now about 55 metres long, the main construction provides a refuge and routeway for many creatures. Toads and newts nestle into its damp crevices, and wood mice, weasels and voles run across the top.

Beaver project officer Steve Oliver
Steve Oliver, who manages Dorset Wildlife Trust’s beaver project.

My visit was supervised by the project officer Steve Oliver. He witnessed the speed with which the beavers have reshaped the landscape: “This was just one small pond, all silted up. On only their third night here they started collecting dead wood to plug a narrow pinch point – then the water poured over the land, transforming everything. It’s been magical to see.”

First published in The Guardian’s Country Diary column on 4 August 2022. The photo of one of the beaver kits is by Stephen Oliver of Dorset Wildlife Trust: thanks Steve.

Sara Hudston

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.