The offbeat animals of the UK

In November 2017, an urban neighbourhood in Manchester was briefly overtaken by a swarm of 1,500 beavers (the largest colony on record, naturally). There were reports of metal detectors, puppies desperate to make their…

The offbeat animals of the UK

In November 2017, an urban neighbourhood in Manchester was briefly overtaken by a swarm of 1,500 beavers (the largest colony on record, naturally). There were reports of metal detectors, puppies desperate to make their mothers’ nests, homes being trashed, polar bears being agitated by the sound of dogs barking – in short, an amazing and spectacularly chaotic New Year’s Eve in Manchester’s Beaumont Gardens. A stately home came to the rescue.

During the beaver invasion, there was enough loose beaver poop to turn the gardens green enough to feed a family of four for over three months, according to city councillor Richard Hall, who has specialised in environmental issues for more than 20 years.

Pregnant beavers sometimes lead two or three young on active hunts for salmon and smelt.

The stormy weather? Well, it put naturalists in a twist. “We’re all novices to beaver management,” says Andrzej Jentzsch, the head naturalist at Stowe, an English country house in Staffordshire which was once the largest private estate in the world. “We’ve never been a petting zoo.” His team pounced.

Over the next three weeks, Andrzej’s team removed and cleaned the thousands of beavers by hand. But in the end, all the beavers enjoyed their commandeered quarters for three months. It was only around February that hunters began to pelt the menagerie with chainsaws.

What will happen to the approximately 200 beavers that remain in Beaumont Gardens? Unless another storm comes along, there’s a good chance, says Andrzej, they’ll all go back to their fenced-in “towns” in Beaumont.

Weighing around 50lbs and said to weigh three tonnes, these beavers have a massive metabolic rate. They can eat a kebab on a houseboat, for example, and weigh 50lbs, but when they’re feeding on fresh salmon they can weigh three tonnes. In total, there are around 40 places where beavers have settled in the UK. In Clacton-on-Sea, on England’s east coast, people can take photos of beavers in their swimming pools.

On the West Coast, in New York City, there’s a beaver pond in the middle of a city park called Central Park. But it was cut off in the 1960s when the parks department realised all its machines, such as vehicles, machinery and boats, were in it. Never called the Centre for the Study of Aquatic Habitats or “NYC’s fabled West Wing”, it’s kept as a separate “beaver shaped” area inside. In 2017, about 1,000 beavers were killed, and the area was completely empty.

The fact that Clacton-on-Sea in Essex has well-protected beaver ponds still only captures about a quarter of the global population. Andrzej Jentzsch points out that beavers are UK-born. In the 1930s, they were used to help build dams on the Roman Wall between France and England, and by 1870, when Nelson formed the Salisbury Plain oasis, they were also present.

All over Britain, specialised departments exist to run ‘beaver farms’ where the animals can be kept. A number of wild beavers have had skins repaired by specialists.

The individuals in captivity tend to be older than in the wild, and are often sick. However, there are two “over-thirty-year-old-plus” males living on Clacton-on-Sea’s beaver farms, according to Jentzsch. As such, beavers are part of the fabric of the island.

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