Beaver fever in Shrewsbury edges closer as work gets started on enclosure the size of 16 football pitches
The return of beavers to Shrewsbury is moving closer as work starts on a secure enclosure for the animals.
An "urban beaver trial" is taking place at the Old River Bed nature reserve. It will be a five-year project to help it become a better wetland habitat for insects, fish, birds and mammals.
Shropshire Wildlife Trust has revealed that Ainsty Timber Marketing (ATM Ltd) is starting construction of the secure enclosure that will house the beavers. A date for the arrival of the beavers is expected later in the year.
The wildlife trust believes the site has the potential to be a great wetland habitat, but the current ecosystem is impacted by the fast growth of trees such as willows.
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.
The beavers will help to control the growth of willows through natural tree-felling 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, said: “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. Roughly rectangular in shape, the enclosure will be approximately 8.5 hectares – the size of nearly 16 football pitches.
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, the process of translocating a pair, or family, of beavers will start.
Phase two will also include associated welfare tasks, as well as education and engagement in the community. The beaver translocation process is extremely specific to support their seasonal routines, which means the date they arrive will not be known until later in the year.
Councillor Alan Mosley, leader of Shrewsbury Town Council, said: “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.”
More information about Bringing Back Beavers to Shropshire can be found at shropshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/bringing-back-beavers