Wildcats, golden eagles and beavers could be reintroduced in England as part of a major boost to declining nature, UK government reveals

  • The government has pledged to reintroduce species such as beaver and wildcat
  • They will launch a taskforce to look at reintroducing gone and declining species 
  • Government officials also plan to ban the sale of peat for use in gardens by 2024 
  • The government also plans to treble tree-planting rates in England to 7,000 hectares of new woodland per year by 2024 through a £500 million fund

Once native animals and birds like wildcats, golden eagles and beavers could be reintroduced to England in a major wildlife boost under a government project.

A taskforce will be set up to look at bringing back long-lost species and introduce declining species into new areas, says Environment Secretary George Eustice.

In a speech from Delamere Forest, Cheshire, where beavers are being kept in a fenced enclosure to manage habitat, Mr Eustice also said the Government was ‘looking positively’ towards the reintroduction of the semi-aquatic mammals.

Beavers, hunted to extinction in Britain by the 16th century, have already returned to live free on the River Otter in Devon in England and a number of other waterways.

Conservationists back the return of the animals because they create and manage habitat for other wildlife, improve water quality and curb flooding downstream.

Mr Eustice also said the government would look at re-introducing other animals such as wildcats and golden eagles to areas where they are gone or declining. 

The move is not universally supported though, with landowners raising concerns about local impacts they will have on other animals and the ecosystem.

Once native animals and birds like wildcats, golden eagles (pictured) and beavers could be reintroduced to England in a major wildlife boost under a government project.

In a speech from Delamere Forest, Cheshire, where beavers (pictured) are being kept in a fenced enclosure to manage habitat, Mr Eustice also said the Government was ‘looking positively’ towards the reintroduction of the semi-aquatic mammals.

HOW AND WHY DO BEAVERS BUILD DAMS? 

Beavers are found across the northern hemisphere and are among planet’s most skilled builders.

This reputation has earnt them the nickname ‘nature’s engineers’.

They fell trees by gnawing at their trunks and use the resulting sticks to construct dams to stop the movement of water in ponds, lakes, rivers and streams – creating a bodies of water with a low current.

The mammals then use sticks and mud to create a second structure – a large dome-shaped island that can reach as high as ten feet (3m) tall and up to 1,600ft (500m) long.

Each island includes two underwater entrances and a living chamber above water where the animals sleep and shelter.

Beavers often line the walls of this chamber with dry leaves and plants to insulate it during winter. 

It remains unclear exactly why beavers build dams, but scientists speculate the creatures use it for warmth and shelter in the winter and as protection from predators.

Beavers are strong swimmers, and creating a reservoir of water allows the animals to play to their strengths to escape those higher in the food chain.

The biggest beaver dam ever discovered measured 2,790ft (850m) – more than twice the length of the Hoover dam.

The woodland construction, found in the southern edge of Wood Buffalo National Park in Northern Alberta, Canada, was so expansive it could be seen from space.

A consultation on the approach to beavers and managing them in the wild will take place this summer, he said.

‘After a successful release in Devon, we are looking positively towards the reintroduction of beavers and the further releases of this iconic species in England.’

He said there also needs to be ‘strong partnerships and agreement from stakeholders’, adding that the approach they take would ‘acknowledge the potential of beavers as a keystone species, while working closely with local communities.’

And he said: ‘We want to see a nature-rich Britain with further action to bend the curve of species loss in this country. We will recover threatened species and provide opportunities for reintroduction through a range of projects.’

This will include feasibility studies looking at reintroducing the red-backed shrike as a breeding bird, and golden eagles, found in other parts of the UK, into England.

A new taskforce, made up of experts, landowners and charities, would consider reintroducing species such as wildcats lost from England, and the release of rare wildlife including curlew and pine martens into new areas.

The wide-ranging speech on tackling nature and the climate crisis also set out plans to protect peatlands and increase woodland cover in England.

Mr Eustice also set out plans to set a new 2030 legal target for species abundance to halt declines in nature.

Under the plans to protect carbon-storing peatland, green-fingered householders will be banned from buying peat for their gardens from 2024.

This is a move which conservationists said was long overdue.

Quizzed as to why the ban could not be brought in earlier, the Environment Secretary said it was subject to consultation.

He added that it was hoped a long run up and consultation could drive action by retailers ahead of any ban being brought in.

There is also funding to restore 35,000 hectares (86,000 acres) of peatland in England in the next four years – around 1% of the total.

He also announced measures to make farming of lowland peat soils more sustainable to cut carbon emissions that come from degraded peat.

The government also plans to treble tree-planting rates in England to 7,000 hectares of new woodland per year by 2024 through a £500 million fund.

It is hoped this new multimillion pound tree-planting grant will provide more incentives for landowners and farmers to plant and manage trees.

At least three community forests will be created, there are plans for some natural regeneration of woods alongside planting, and to provide funding for wet woodland buffer zones alongside rivers to help wildlife.

The government also plans to treble tree-planting rates in England to 7,000 hectares of new woodland per year by 2024 through a £500 million fund 

A new taskforce, made up of experts, landowners and charities, would consider reintroducing species such as wildcats (pictured) lost from England, and the release of rare wildlife including curlew and pine martens into new areas

CREATURES BEING CONSIDERED FOR REINTRODUCTION 

White-tailed eagles

Successfully reintroduced to Scotland in the 1970s with efforts to produce a breeding population in the Isle of Wight in 2019.

Pine martens

Vanished from England due to hunting and loss of habitat, they have made a comeback in Scotland with a reintroduction scheme in England being develeoped.

Beavers

The semi-aquatic mammals, were hunted to extinction by the 16th century in Britain and have since been returned to Scotland and Devon.

Wildcats

Britain’s only wild cat species vanished from England due to hunting but are being bred in Scotland and efforts in place in England to reintroduce them.

Golden eagles

Gone from England in the 1850s, surviving in small number sin Scotland, the government hopes to reintroduce them to England. 

Lynx

The shy and solitary woodland hunter was native to Britain but was driven to extinction 500 to 1,000 years ago, efforts to reintroduce them have faltered so far due to risks to sheep.

Eva Bishop, communications director at Beaver Trust, welcomed the Government’s intent to restore species such as the beaver.

‘We now want to see a bold and ambitious strategy to increase their numbers, with robust and adequately resourced management plans,’ Bishop said.

‘Beavers are an important ally for us in building climate resilience across our river networks and their return, if carried out collaboratively, offers great hope for nature restoration,’ she urged.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said it was exciting to hear talk of reintroducing wildlife such as wildcats and golden eagles.

However, he added that ‘success of such projects entirely depends on making a huge amount more space available for nature.’

‘What we need is all nature to be abundant once more – humming and buzzing all around us – and we hope that a new legally-binding target to achieve this will step up action across Government,’ he added.

‘So, while seeds of hope were sown today, root and branch change is still needed on a mammoth scale.’

The Wildlife Trusts are calling for ‘vast restoration projects’ which need funding by Government, to reach a target for 30 per cent of the UK’s land and seas to be properly protected for nature – up from an estimated 5 per cent today.

Richard Benwell, chief executive of the Wildlife and Countryside Link coalition of nature groups, welcomed the move to put a species recovery target into law.

He said: ‘The Government has accepted the principle that we need a legally-binding target to halt the decline of wildlife.

‘If the legal detail is right, and the targets are comprehensive and science-based, then this could inspire the investment and action needed to protect and restore wildlife, after a century of decline.’ 

EXTINCTION LOOMS FOR MORE THAN ONE MILLION SPECIES

Nature is in more trouble now than at any time in human history with extinction looming over one million species of plants and animals, experts say.

That’s the key finding of the United Nations’ (UN) first comprehensive report on biodiversity – the variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat.

The report – published on May 6, 2019 – says species are being lost at a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past. 

Many of the worst effects can be prevented by changing the way we grow food, produce energy, deal with climate change and dispose of waste, the report said.

The report’s 39-page summary highlighted five ways people are reducing biodiversity:

– Turning forests, grasslands and other areas into farms, cities and other developments. The habitat loss leaves plants and animals homeless. About three-quarters of Earth’s land, two-thirds of its oceans and 85% of crucial wetlands have been severely altered or lost, making it harder for species to survive, the report said.

– Overfishing the world’s oceans. A third of the world’s fish stocks are overfished.

– Permitting climate change from the burning of fossil fuels to make it too hot, wet or dry for some species to survive. Almost half of the world’s land mammals – not including bats – and nearly a quarter of the birds have already had their habitats hit hard by global warming.

– Polluting land and water. Every year, 300 to 400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents and toxic sludge are dumped into the world’s waters.

– Allowing invasive species to crowd out native plants and animals. The number of invasive alien species per country has risen 70 per cent since 1970, with one species of bacteria threatening nearly 400 amphibian species.

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