The European beaver (Castor fiber) is a species of beaver, which was once widespread in Eurasia.
The beaver became extinct in Great Britain in the sixteenth century: Giraldus Cambrensis reported in 1188 (Itinerarium ii.iii) that it was to be found only in the Teifi in Wales and in one river in Scotland, though his observations are clearly secondhand. The last reference to beavers in England dates to 1526.
In 2001 the Wildwood Trust with Kent Wildlife Trust imported two families of European beaver from Norway to manage a wetland nature reserve. This project pioneered the use of beaver as a wildlife conservation tool in the UK. The success of this project has provided the inspiration behind other projects in Gloucestershire and Argyll. The Kent beaver colony live in a 130-acre (0.53 km2) fenced enclosure at the wetland of Ham Fen. Subsequently the population of beaver has been supplemented in 2005 and 2008. The beaver continue to help restore the wetland by rehydrating the soils.
Six European Beavers were released in 2005 into a fenced lakeside area in Gloucestershire.
In 2007 a specially-selected group of four Bavarian beavers were released into a fenced enclosure in the Martin Mere nature reserve in Lancashire. It is hoped that the beavers will form a permanent colony, and the younger pair will be transferred to another location when the adults begin breeding again. The progress of the group will be followed as part of the BBC's Autumnwatch television series.
A colony of beavers is established in a large enclosure at Bamff, Perthshire.
A beaver living wild was confirmed in Scotland in early 2007 and was captured. It may have been released illegally.
In 2005, the Scottish Government turned down a licence application for unfenced reintroduction. However, in late 2007 a further application was made for a release project in Knapdale, Argyll. This application was accepted, and the first beavers were released on the 29th May 2009. This initial release into the wild of 11 animals received a setback during the first year with the disappearance of two animals and the illegal shooting of a third. However, the remaining population was increased in 2010 by further releases. The Scottish charity Trees for Life plans to reintroduce beavers in the Scottish Highlands.
With the exception of the Knapdale animals, all the beavers in the United Kingdom today are in semi-enclosed sites and not fully released into the wild. A 2009 report by Natural England, the Government’s conservation body, and the People's Trust for Endangered Species recommended that beaver be reintroduced to the wild in England.
A study has been undertaken on the feasibility and desirability of a reintroduction of beavers to Wales by a partnership including the Wildlife Trusts, Countryside Council for Wales, Peoples Trust for Endangered Species, Environment Agency Wales, Wild Europe, Forestry Commission Wales, with additional funding from Welsh Power Ltd. The resulting reports are due to be published in 2010.
Beaver are a keystone species helping support the ecosystem of which they are a part. They create wetlands which increase biodiversity and provide habitat for many rare species such as water voles, otters and water shrews. They coppice waterside trees and shrubs so that they re-grow as dense shrubs which provide cover for birds and other animals. Beaver dams trap sediment and improve water quality; recharge groundwater tables and increase cover and forage for trout and salmon.
Beaver ponds have been shown to have a beneficial effect on trout and salmon populations, in fact many authors believe that the decline of salmonid fishes is related to the decline in beaver populations.