Urban beavers move into Honiton – evidence shows they have made their home on the river

Urban beavers have been spotted in Honiton and could breed over the winter, wildlife experts have said.

The first beaver activity in an East Devon town has been confirmed in Millers Way community orchard after a felled apple tree reported by a passer-by prompted an inspection of the site, and found the presence of at least one beaver in the River Gissage.

Devon Wildlife Trust beaver officer, Jake Chant, said the beavers were likely to breed over the winter if they remained on the river.

He said regular monitoring of the river would now take place, and safeguard measures to protect the beavers and the public would be implemented.

Dog owners have been urged to keep their pets on a lead if they spot one of the beavers.

And an appeal has been launched to sign-up members of the public to help monitor the urban beavers.

Jake Chant, Devon Wildlife Trust beaver officer, said: “Beavers sometimes build dams in streams to create deeper water. The deep water creates a safe underwater entrance to the beaver’s home, which is often a burrow in the bank.

“We will regularly monitor the river to identify any activity which might pose a risk and take necessary steps to make sure it’s safe.

“During the summer beavers mainly eat riverside vegetation. And in the winter, they are more likely to feed on the bark of trees. Tree guards and wire mesh are being put in place to protect some of the trees in the area.”

He added: “If the beavers stay on the Gissage they’re likely to breed this winter and have kits in spring. I will be checking in on the beavers regularly.”

East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Countryside Team said it will work with the community in Honiton, with information to help protect the beavers in their new home.

James Chubb, East Devon District Council’s Countryside Team Leader, said: “Beavers on the River Otter have been observed to quickly grow accustomed to people and lose their shyness. This is great from a public enjoyment perspective, but people should remember that beavers see dogs as predators.  It’s important to keep your distance and keep dogs on leads.

“My colleagues and I at East Devon District Council’s Countryside Team will work extensively to inform and educate local people how to enjoy the beavers safely and give them due respect and that will start by getting into schools in the town.”

Cllr Geoff Jung, EDDC portfolio holder for coast, country and environment, said: “We are delighted to see the expansion of beavers in our area.

“We’ll work closely with partners at Devon Wildlife Trust, East Devon AONB and Honiton Town Council to ensure the beavers and the public are safe.”

He added: “We will do everything we can to protect this new population of urban beavers, and officers will monitor and manage the beavers to make sure they remain safe and to record their activity in the river.”

Beavers have been living free in East Devon since 2008, and studied as part of Devon Wildlife Trust’s River Otter Beaver Trial since 2015.

In August 2020, the UK Government gave permission for Devon’s beavers to stay – a ‘landmark decision’ to legally sanction the reintroduction of an extinct native mammal to England.

The beavers are allowed to expand their range naturally, finding new areas to settle.

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