Contractors beaver away at Shrewsbury beaver release trial

Work has begun on the construction of a secure enclosure that will house an urban beaver release trial in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. 

The urban beaver trial is a five-year project, between Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Shrewsbury Town Council who own the Old River Bed nature reserve.

The Old River Bed, on the edge of Shrewsbury town centre, is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) that is protected for the wetland plants found there. The town council has managed the site with machinery and grazing livestock for many years, all of which come at a high financial cost.

The site has the potential to be a great wetland habitat for insects, fish, birds and mammals. However, the current ecosystem is impacted by the fast growth of trees such as willow. Wetlands store more CO2 than woodlands, but if left unmanaged, the willow trees at the Old River Bed would soon outgrow other plants, dry the site out and impact its ability to store carbon.

Beavers are a nature-based solution that will help the site flourish. They will help to control the growth of willows through natural coppicing and reduce their impact on the sensitive wetland habitat. Their engineering should also improve water quality for other wildlife as well as slow the flow of water.

Jan McKelvey, Conservation Manager of Shropshire Wildlife Trust, says:

“Beavers are a “keystone species” and they play an important role in restoring our wetland ecosystems and create naturally resilient networks of swamp and open water habitat. Providing natural capital benefits such as flood water storage and improving biodiversity, this is one of the first urban beaver enclosure trials outside of London and we are confident its success will have a positive impact for beavers in the future.”

Site preparation was completed earlier in the year. Over the next few months, the phase one construction of the secure beaver enclosure will take shape by contractors ATM Ltd. Roughly rectangular in shape the enclosure will be approximately 8.5 hectares – nearly 16 football pitches in size.

The enclosure will be constructed with a combination of fencing techniques and materials to accommodate both dry and wet ground. The security and welfare of beavers and other wildlife is of paramount importance and so the fencing is specifically designed to continue deep down into the ground to dissuade beavers from digging under it. This type of fencing has been used successfully in beaver enclosures elsewhere in Britain. Provision for local badger movement has also been included so they can move in and around the area safely. Wildlife and biodiversity monitoring will continue throughout the whole project.

There will be a 280m pedestrian boardwalk across the wetland area external to the enclosure on the south side to provide safe access for pedestrians to cross from Hubert Way on the east of the Old River Bed to the pathway on the west side.

Once the secure enclosure has been completed phase two will start. This is the process of translocating a pair, or family, of beavers and the associated welfare tasks, as well as education and engagement in the community.

Councillor Alan Mosley, Leader of Shrewsbury Town Council, says:

“We’re excited to be bringing beavers back to Shropshire after being absent from our county for so long. Beavers are a natural and sustainable solution to managing habitats. We spend a lot of time and money managing sites for nature, which beavers can do better and cheaper at the Old River Bed allowing us to focus funds on other countryside sites and habitat improvements elsewhere. I’m sure that there will be tremendous interest in the project from members of the public and the Town Council’s footpath extension and improvement works will provide access all around the site.”

The Shropshire Beaver Project has been made possible by experts and funders including Severn Trent Water, Veolia Environmental Trust and Potter Group as part of the Landfill Communities Fund, Beaver Bridges and John Ellerman Foundation as well as the generosity of Shropshire Wildlife Trust members and supporters.

England is one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries and beavers offer a chance to reverse the dramatic decline in our wildlife by allowing nature to restore itself. Release projects are already underway in several locations across England and Wales. They have proved to be hugely successful in managing wetlands more sensitively, enabling nature solutions to many environmental issues.