The Eurasian Beaver (Castor fiber) was once widespread across Wales but, due to over-hunting by man for their fur, meat and scent glands, they became extinct after the Middle Ages. Until recent decades, the word ‘beaver’ (or ‘afanc’ in Welsh) was mostly associated with the past – you can see references in place names such as Beaver Pool/Llyn-yr-Afanc and in folklore such as the Afanc legends of the of the River Conwy and Llangorse Lake, which tell of fearsome water monsters that devoured swimmers and caused floods. However, times are a-changing, and the beaver/afanc may no longer be an animal confined to myth, legend and history.
Beavers – in the past or future of Wales?
Unlike the mystical monsters, real beavers are important animals. They play a vital role in enriching biodiversity; restoring and managing wetland ecosystems. Beavers are known as ‘keystone species’ because their activities can benefit a wide range of other animals and plants that live in wetland habitats. Beaver activity can also help to improve water quality, regulate flow, alleviate downstream flooding, stabilise water tables and reduce erosion in rivers. As people like to see beavers, they can also benefit tourism, helping to support local economies.
Beavers have already been successfully reintroduced to over 25 countries in Europe. Here, the Welsh Beaver Project is working to reintroduce wild beavers back into the Welsh landscape. (This work is being led by North Wales Wildlife Trust on behalf of the Wildlife Trusts in Wales.) Wales has abundant habitat to support beavers and we are currently working on a licence application for a managed reintroduction to a small catchment. In due course, there’ll be a public consultation led by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) for people to have their say. Hopefully, beavers will soon be back in the Welsh landscape once again!