A CONSULTATION has been launched into the possible reintroduction of beavers, which includes legally protecting them.

Defra's plans to release beavers into the wild in England marks a step towards establishing native beaver populations.

Under the Government’s proposals, applications for licences to release beavers into the wild would need to meet certain criteria, including demonstrating positive stakeholder engagement and local buy in, and proof that a comprehensive assessment has been undertaken of the impacts on surrounding land, the water environment, infrastructures, habitats, and protected species.

Projects must also ensure that support for landowners and river users is put in place.

Beavers were once widespread across Europe and became extinct in England in the 16th century because of overhunting for their meat and fur. Because of the potential benefits this species can bring and, given reintroduction projects in Scotland, there has been increased interest in reintroducing this species to England.

Responding to the launch of a consultation, NFU environment forum chairman Richard Bramley said: “British farmers and growers are experts at making the most of their natural environment to produce climate-friendly food.

“It is positive that any reintroduction will be strictly licensed by Natural England and it is important any approved licensing includes a long-term management plan, developed with local farmers and backed with adequate funding.

"Any impact on a farmer’s ability to produce food needs to be included as part of a full impact assessment carried out before any licence is issued.

“We must remember that beaver reintroductions can have negative impacts - potentially undermining riverbanks, damaging trees, impeding farmland drainage and causing low-lying fields to flood.

“Where there is a financial impact on a farm business, adequate compensation must be made and an exit strategy must be in place should major issues occur.

“We are committed to working with Natural England and interested parties to deliver the best outcomes.”

The 12-week Defra consultation, which ends on November 17, is seeking views on: potential future releases into the wild; current and future releases into enclosures; and

mitigation and management of beaver activity or impacts in the wild, including the river otter population and all other existing wild living beaver populations.