Salter takes aim at the beaver

While the worlds of science and the environment concentrate on Copenhagen, it is good to see that the climate change negotiations are not the only focus of attention.

I receive an angry press release from Martin Salter, Labour MP for Reading West, entitled “Salter Takes Aim at the Beaver”.

Salter, Labour’s Parliamentary Angling spokesman, is furious with Natural England about the public conservation body’s “ludicrous” plans to re-introduce the European beaver, once a common animal in the British countryside but driven to extinction about 400 years ago.

On reading Natural England’s press release cited by Salter, I find that he has misrepresented its position. It is not actually planning to release the rodents but has sensibly carried out a feasibility study, in conjunction with the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, to prepare for the growing likelihood that someone will apply soon for a licence to reintroduce beavers. A limited release programme is already under way in Scotland.

The MP fulminates against Natural England’s statements that beavers can contribute positively to river and wetland management, including floodplain restoration.

“These must be two of the most absurd statements uttered by a publicly funded body in recent years,” he says. “Quite clearly Natural England envisages an army of highly literate beavers in council uniforms carefully consulting maps of flood risk sites before deciding which trees to chop down and where to build their dams ! In reality, these are four stone giant rodents with a genetic programme set to cause deforestation and flooding”

Salter also claims that beaver dams will prevent migratory fish running the rivers. So how does he think the fish managed to reach their spawning grounds in pre-industrial England before beavers were wiped out? A beaver dam is not a serious obstacle to a determined salmon or sea trout.

“If we really have to introduce endangered species, why do we not take the DNA of Tyrannosaurus Rex or the wolf and bring them back to Britain?” asks Salter ironically. Well, in fact there are plans to re-introduce wolves to the Scottish Highlands.

Wild boar have already re-introduced themselves in several parts of rural England – probably irrevocably. And personally I’d welcome back beavers, bears, wolves and lynx.

But I realise that in some quarters that view is as unwelcome as a climate sceptic at a Greenpeace meeting.


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Clive Cookson, the FT's science editor, picks out the research that everyone should know about, in fields from astronomy to zoology. He also discusses key policy issues, from R&D funding to science education. He'll cover the weird and wonderful, as well as the serious side of science.

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