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Beavers released at Wild Ken Hill in Snettisham

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For the first time in hundreds of years beavers have made a return to Norfolk having just been released at a major rewilding site in Snettisham.

Two females, which were transported from Scotland, were given a new home last month at Wild Ken Hill, where they will play an important role growing the biodiversity.

Beavers are a keystone species which create micro habitats for other species to use and are also impressive water management engineers. The dams, channels and other structures they create allows the land to hold onto more water.

This beaver is taking some wood over an old sluice (33753752)
This beaver is taking some wood over an old sluice (33753752)

Wild Ken Hill covers 1,500 acres and is the largest rewilding project of its kind in East Anglia. Its project manager is Dominic Buscall, son of landowner Harry Buscall.

The beavers are young unrelated adults, about two or three years old, and have not bred before. They have been released into different areas of an enclosure of nearly 60 acres which allows plenty of room for them to build up separate territories. It is believed to be the largest enclosed project of its kind in England.

Said Dominic: "We released them at dusk after they travelled from Scotland. There were some efforts carefully lowering the beavers in their crates into the enclosure. We opened the crates and they both squirrelled away into the ponds and watery channels that sit within the enclosure.

The camera trap at Wild Ken Hill to capture beaver activity (33753762)
The camera trap at Wild Ken Hill to capture beaver activity (33753762)

"In the first few days, clear signs of feeding suggested both beavers were settling into their new surroundings and reassuring us that they were in good health after their journey south."

Eurasian beavers are mostly nocturnal, also appearing at dawn and dusk. And they much prefer to be in the water, where they can more easily escape predators.

"We installed numerous camera traps and have been visiting the enclosure regularly to see if we could catch a glimpse of our new residents going about their work, or evidence of any damming and digging," said Dominic.

"We have seen one of the females felling and moving wood over an old sluice into a downstream part of the enclosure, where we think she is building a new dam or lodge.

One of the beavers during medical screening, transportation and release (33753754)
One of the beavers during medical screening, transportation and release (33753754)

"Beavers dam flowing water to create larger pools and wet areas. This allows them to access food from the comfort of the water, and protects them better from predators.

"We are chuffed to see that the beavers have settled in well to their new environment."

He thanked organisations who had collaborated on this conservation project, particularly Natural England which supported funding of the enclosure and Five Sisters Zoo in Scotland, which looked after the beavers during captivity.

A beaver at dusk (33753767)
A beaver at dusk (33753767)

The next plan is to release two males, to create two pairs of beavers that hopefully will breed.

"We hope they will each join the females to create two pairs. We will source and release the two additional males when the trapping season reopens in August, and once the COVID-19 virus is under control and lockdown measures are reduced in severity," said Dominic.

These males will be trapped under the Scottish Natural Heritage Beaver Mitigation scheme before being transferred to Five Sisters Zoo for full health screening according to DEFRA recommendations.

"A number of beavers have now been successfully relocated to restoration projects in England so we are incredibly proud to support this process and be a vital part in promoting the restoration of this lost native mammal, with all the biodiversity benefits they bring," said Dominic.

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