Do the return of beavers to the North York Moors signify a change in National Park conservation?

20 November 2018

Campaign for National Parks’ Andrew Hall looks at the return of the beavers to Yorkshire and whether is signifies a wider change in nature conservation. 

Now is a major time of change for nature in our National Parks. Reports such as the State of Nature 2016 and others make clear the appalling loss of biodiversity in England and Wales. But now what was perhaps once unthinkable has happened, we are seeing the return of the beaver to one of England’s beautiful National Parks. But does this signify a wider change for nature conservation in the National Parks?

The Forestry Commission project at Cropton Woods in the North York Moors National Park would see a number of beavers occupy a large enclosure, with their effects on the environment then being monitored. The proposal already has some support from the National Park Authority and will now go to consultation.

Beaver via pixabay

The enigmatic and hard working beaver. Picture via Pixabay

Back in summer our report, Raising the Bar: improving nature in National Parks, called for greater leadership and more experimental approaches to nature conservation in National Park management plans. The emphasis on management plans recognised that the National Parks are each very different and it is clear that taking a lead on nature conservation is going to take different forms across the Parks.

 

Tension and ambition

The prospect of reintroductions has long been exciting to various parts of the conservation movement, (click here to read Derek Gow’s vision for wilder National Parks for example), but equally others raise significant concerns, (click here to read Rory Stewart MP’s view on rewilding). Whether it’s reducing the intensive grazing of our uplands or working with the grouse shooting community to reduce bird of prey persecutions, active and ambitious conservation can be a source of tension.

As the land within the National Parks is managed by a wide variety of private and public bodies, affecting the communities within then and the enjoyment of the Park by the Nation, it is inherently difficult to please everyone. However Campaign for National Parks has been consistently clear that in pursuing a thriving future for nature in the National Parks, it is imperative we work with everyone and bring as many people along as possible. 

 

Hopes for the future

As with all new conservation proposals (albeit the reintroduction of the beaver is now a fairly established pilot), it is important they are consider within a wider context. We want to see nature conservation at a landscape scale that re-establishes ecological processes. We are hopeful, though it is not certain, that measures such as beaver reintroductions might be part of this narrative.

As with lots of conservation projects, we hope this will be an opportunity to re-engage a nature-deprived public in the beautiful setting of the North York Moors. In Devon there is a great deal of public interest in the local beaver population and there are ample reasons why this should be even greater in a National Park such as the North York Moors. We hope National Park Authorities will be able to wield their educational and communications infrastructures to use the plight of this enigmatic species to inspire a new generation of conservationists.

Could beavers deliver changes to the environment and inspire conservationists?

Could beavers create landscape scale change and inspire locals and visitors?  Photo via Pixabay

The beavers themselves are likely to have a transformative effect on the landscape that must be closely monitored. The many pools and dams they create in turn provide a rich variety of habitats for many other species including invertebrates, birds and amphibians. Reducing flood risk and mitigating climate change have both been cited as benefits from beaver activity.

 

Thinking the unthinkable

One pilot beaver reintroduction does not a countryside revolution make. However there was a time when beaver reintroductions were unthinkable. Therefore, almost regardless of the specific outcomes of the project, the willingness of bodies such as the Forestry Commission to look at new conservation methods is encouraging.

We must hope that this eye-catching project signals a radical change in the scale at which conservation operates. There’s many different ways of getting to the end goal of thriving, wildlife-abundant National Parks but if we are to halt (let alone turn around) country-wide declines in nature it is vital we move towards a braver and more ambitious future in our National Parks.

Andrew Hall, Campaign for National Parks.