Early in 2014, wild Eurasian beavers made a high-profile return to the English countryside after a centuries-long absence – and by the looks of things the comeback beavers are doing pretty well. For a start, their numbers are growing. Kits (that's baby beavers to you and me) arrived in June this year, and promptly made a show of getting ferried around on the river by mom. 

The beavers' swimming lessons were caught on camera by local naturalist Tom Buckley, who also brought us the first evidence of the animals' presence along the River Otter in east Devon last year. 

The watery introduction went well for some, while others were less enthusiastic. "One of the kits ... seemed extremely unhappy to be out in the big wide world and as soon as its mother let it go it rushed back to its burrow," recalled Buckely. "Not surprising really ... this was possibly their first experience of what lies outside of their burrow." 

We get you, little guy.

Once widespread across the UK, European beavers (Castor fiber) had been hunted to extinction in England and Wales by the 16th century. And that makes Devon's pioneers the first of their kind to live and breed in this corner of the wild in centuries (though just how they got there remains a bit of a mystery.)

“We are thrilled that the beavers have bred. The kits appear fit and healthy and the adults seem as if they are taking their parenting responsibilities very seriously. It tells us that the beavers are very much at home in this corner of Devon," said the Devon Wildlife Trust’s Mark Elliott following the release of the footage.

Despite some initial uncertainty about their future here, the animals were allowed to stay on a trial basis, and the Trust has since been closely monitoring the new arrivals (and any potential impact these dam-building, tree-felling engineers might have on the local landscape).

“The slowly expanding population of these wild animals will help us to gain valuable insights into beavers and their environment – both in terms of animal behaviour and any benefits and effects on the surrounding river system," explains Elliott

As for recent reports that the beavers have gone AWOL, with no new sightings since September, the Trust has been quick to set the record straight. "Devon's wild beavers have not 'disappeared'. In fact, [they've] been seen on two different stretches of the river recently – including two days ago," said the team in an update earlier this week.

Since the animals haven't been fitted with tracking collars, it's hard to know their precise location at any one time, but the team is confident the small population is doing just fine.

"Beavers are mobile animals and very capable of exploring large areas of a river. The river Otter is 30 miles in length [and] this provides great potential for the animals to move location," the trust explains. "Beavers are also more difficult to spot at this time of year. They are nocturnal and our nights are now longer. As a consequence we would expect to see a dip in sightings during autumn." 

For updates on how the beavers are doing, keep an eye on the Devon Wildlife Trust’s Facebook page.


Top header image: Dennis Grimme, Flickr