The River Otter is the location of one of the most exciting conservation initiatives in England in recent times – the reintroduction of the beaver.
This native mammal was hunted to extinction in England many hundreds of years ago due to demand for its meat, fur and castoreum (scent), which was valued by the perfume industry. First appearing in the river Otter over ten years ago from an unknown source, by 2022 over ten family groups occupied the main river and tributaries of the catchment. This number continues to grow rapidly.
Beavers are large vegetarian rodents which can weigh over 30 kilos. Typically, upon pairing, a female will give birth to between one and three kits each year. Beavers are famed for their ability to dam streams and create wetlands. Such activity can be positive for wildlife and ‘slowing the flow’ of fast running steams after heavy rainfall can reduce the risk of flooding. However, they can also impact communities negatively through localised flooding of fields and gardens, the blocking of culverts and the felling of prized fruit trees. Burrows (or lodges) are typically dug into the banks of the river but is unlikely that dams will be seen on the main river. These are only usually constructed in smaller steams where water levels are low.
Beavers are primarily active at night, but their presence can often be detected beside the river, through heavily gnawed or even felled trees which show the incisor marks of a (very large) rodent. During summer evenings, it is possible to observe the animals swimming, feeding or grooming from the riverside paths. Adult beavers will actively defend their territory and kits from threats, so it is safer to keep dogs out of the water, during these times.
Watch wildlife responsibly and respect other river users including anglers. Paddleboarding is not permitted on the river. Please be considerate of local residents, if parking in the village of Otterton and returning to vehicles after dark.