Citizen Zoo, a rewilding group whose goal is to bring nature to urban areas, is behind London’s initiative to accomplish their most significant urban reintroduction to date: beavers.
Beavers went extinct in the UK 400 years ago due to being hunted for their fur and a certain oil they produce, but Citizen Zoo volunteers hope that the beaver population will bounce back when they reintroduce the rodents to a site in Tottenham. They already were successful in crowdfunding a release of 200 water voles in Richmond, southwest London.
Although much of north London has a lot of urban development, it also boasts areas that are well suited to beavers, like a large marshland. The Tottenham initiative is well on its way, but according to a beaver expert involved in the project, they are continuing to “[look] out for more,” adding that the hope is to “beaver up” London.
Ben Goldsmith, a board member at the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs who has financed many of the beaver releases in the UK, supports the Tottenham plans, saying, “Beavers have a vital role to play in breathing life back into the terribly depleted natural fabric of our landscapes. Beaver dams on smaller streams and creeks also help to reduce flooding and drought.”
He implores that all of Britain should “have beavers back, living free outside of fenced enclosures, in all of [our] river systems, including our capital city.”
Returning beavers to city centers will create “wildlife corridors” by naturally transforming ugly canals into lush wetlands. Beavers have been declared “keystone species” by rewilding campaigners, which means that their presence is a precursor to more biodiversity and a sign of a healthy natural environment. A government-backed study of beavers on Scotland’s River Tay showed how their habitation of the river increased the number of fish and invertebrates present, and that their dams reduced flooding downriver.
For now, the law only allows landowners to release beavers, and even then, they must be kept fenced in. Changes are on the horizon though, as the government is developing a national beaver strategy that will hopefully include a plan for tearing the existing fences down.