Beavers set to return to Hampshire after 400 years in nature restoration scheme

The pair of beavers are set to be released in an enclosure at Ewhurst Park, near Basingstoke.
The pair of beavers are set to be released in an enclosure at Ewhurst Park, near Basingstoke.

Beavers are set to be released into an enclosure on a former shooting estate which is being restored for nature and sustainable food production.

The introduction of the semi-aquatic mammals, which create wetlands and wildlife habitat where they live, to Hampshire’s Ewhurst Park marks the first time in 400 years that they have lived in the county.

They are being introduced to an enclosure in the 925-acre estate near Basingstoke which once belonged to the Duke of Wellington and is now owned by model, entrepreneur and environmentalist Mandy Lieu.

Ms Lieu sees the beavers as a key part of transforming Ewhurst, an estate made up of parkland, farmland and woodlands, into an “edible landscape” that restores nature at the same time as producing food.

Ewhurst Park
Mandy Lieu planting a tree for the first forest garden in Ewhurst Park (Ewhurst Park/PA)

Beavers were once widespread, but were hunted to extinction in Britain in the 16th century for their fur, glands and meat.

They are now found living in the wild on a number of rivers in Scotland and England through official trials and illegal releases or escapes, and have also been introduced into enclosures in a number of English counties.

Last year, the Environment Department (Defra) followed the Scottish Government’s lead and gave beavers legal protection as a native species in England, although conservationists are still waiting on a strategy for supporting their return to the country.

Beaver swimming through the water
Beavers are keystone species which engineer the landscape (Beaver Trust/PA)

There is a growing body of evidence from reintroduction sites that beaver dams slow the passage of water through landscapes, cutting flood risk downstream and also conserving water in times of drought.

The new wetlands they create can become havens for other wildlife, including dozens of bird and insect species.

The team at Ewhurst say that once the beaver pair are settled in, they will become a cornerstone of the wider conservation efforts on the estate.

Their dams create natural wetlands and water meadows that support wildlife such as butterflies, bats, water voles and birds.

Ms Lieu has worked with experts to ready the land for the beavers and build an enclosure for them to meet current licensing rules.

She has also spoken to local farmers and residents about the beavers and the changes they could bring to the landscape, while 22 Hampshire schools have been invited to take part in a competition by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust to name the two beavers.

Ms Lieu said she was “thrilled” to bring back beavers to Hampshire after 400 years.

“It has been a very rewarding journey learning about what beavers need, how they will impact the environment around them and the benefits that they will bring to other animals and plants.”

She added: “These beavers are not just for Ewhurst, but for the whole community and local area for generations to come.”

Dr Roisin Campbell-Palmer, head of restoration at Beaver Trust, said: “We’re 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 such as the one here at Ewhurst remain an important part of the restoration story.”

The North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) has contributed to the funding of Ewhurst’s beaver project through Defra’s farming in protected landscapes programme.

Alongside the beaver introduction at Ewhurst, Iron Age boars and Tamworth pig sows have been introduced to movable enclosures in the woodland to recreate natural processes, and drains are being blocked up to restore areas that were once wetland.

Grassland grazed by traditional breeds has been restored, trees will be planted in suitable places, work on a market garden has begun and there are plans for pockets of productive “forest gardens” on woodland edges.