There is an exciting project underway at the Old River Bed Site of Special Scientific Interest in north Shrewsbury.
This is a valuable area for many reasons, both ecological and environmental. The site is a nationally rare wetland fen and is protected by Natural England. It has a number of interesting plants and animals present, stores a large amount of carbon in the peat, provides flood water storage for the Severn, and helps to filter pollutants from the surrounding area.
It is under threat from gradual tree encroachment which is causing the peat to dry out. Past efforts to slow this have been costly and only worked in the short term: tree removal with chainsaws, desilting channels with heavy plant, and grazing with cattle. The amount of funding for the site has reduced over the last 10 years, which means this type of management is no longer sustainable.
For the last few years, Shrewsbury Town Council in partnership with Shropshire Wildlife Trust and the Welsh Beaver Project, have been investigating the use of Eurasian Beaver as a management tool on the wetland.
These secretive herbivores were part of our ecosystems until around 400 years ago when they were hunted to extinction, and were very likely present on this wetland in the past. By releasing the beavers within a fenced area, they would act as a grazing animal and create a mosaic of habitats across the site. As the flow rate is so slow across the wetland, they will not feel the need to build dams, but will likely create small channels out from the existing ditches to reach areas of willow and alder scrub to feed on. There are already several enclosures similar to this around the UK as well as some small wild populations.
Advice, licencing and permits have been sought from a range of organisations, including Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission. These ensure that the important features of the site are not damaged and the project has long term benefit. Specialist ecological advice has been sought where specific protected species are present. A range of environmental factors will be monitored in partnership with University Centre Shrewsbury and Harper Adams University.
Shropshire Wildlife Trust has now secured the majority of the funding required for the project from Severn Trent Water and People’s Postcode Lottery, and it has been backed at Full Council by Shrewsbury Town Council.
It is intended that existing barb wire fencing will be removed from the site, and replaced with new mesh wire fencing. The line of this will roughly follow the path of the old fencing, although it will deviate in some places to avoid needing to remove any mature hedgerows. The walkway will be reinstated along the southern boundary of the enclosure to enable a circular route to be walked for members of the public and staff/volunteers checking and maintaining the fencing.
If you have any concerns, questions or would like to be involved in any volunteering related to this project, please contact us.
Shrewsbury Beaver Project FAQs: https://www.shropshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/beaver-FAQs
Benefits of beavers in the UK: https://www.shropshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/our-work/bringing-back-beavers