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Beavers return to Ceredigion

Rachael Garside Rachael Garside | 11:19 UK time, Friday, 10 February 2012

The latest residents to join the Blaeneinion Conservation Project at Artist's Valley near Machynlleth are settling in well to their new Welsh surroundings.

The pair of beavers (sisters) were released into their fenced enclosure last November and are being monitored as part of a programme to evaluate possible future releases into the wild.

American beaver on a grassy shoreline -BBC Nature

An American beaver on a grassy shoreline.

The idea was met with some concern initially - the farming unions argued that beavers became extinct in this country hundreds of years ago, owing to the fact that they caused widespread destruction of wildlife habitats.

They pointed to a similar project in Scotland, where beavers managed to escape from their enclosure and were extremely difficult to recapture.

But at Blaeneinion they have a different view. They're hoping to prove that beavers are a valuable native species that are particularly adept at preserving aquatic habitats.

I've been to Blaeneinion this week to see the project for myself. I met with the project manager, Sharon Girardi who is a woman with a mission.

Blaeneinion Conservation Project at Artist Valley near Machynlleth

Blaeneinion Conservation Project at Artist's Valley near Machynlleth

She moved to Artists Valley three years ago from the centre of London, with a vision to create a community based on the principles of permaculture - living lightly on the planet, and making sure that we can sustain human activities for future generations to come, in harmony with nature.

They've already planted some eight thousand trees on the 75 acre site, with the help of a small army of 'WWOOFers' (I didn't know what these were either!).

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or WWOOF is a membership charity, teaching people about organic growing and low-impact lifestyles through hands-on experience in the UK. People work on the farms in exchange for board and lodgings.

At the moment there are two WWOOFers from France and Australia helping with the planting programme, giving Blaeniniona a distinctly international feel.

A geodesic dome provides winter vegetables, a fruit orchard has already been planted, a bunkhouse offers accommodation for visitors and four other families have also moved in as tenants.

But it's the beavers that are proving to be the main attraction. A feeding station has been built inside the enclosure with plans for two hides in future, where visitors will be able to watch the beavers.

Beavers lodges

Beavers lodges are created from severed branches and mud. The beavers cover their lodges late every autumn with fresh mud, which freezes when the frost sets in.

What I didn't realise before my visit is that beavers are nocturnal. But then as Sharon pointed out, "Why would you know that? They've been extinct for around 400 years!"

At dusk, we crept into the enclosure and spiked apples onto canes at the feeding station, hoping to lure the sisters out of their lodge.

Originally, before they moved in, great pains were taken to build the beavers a lodge, taking advice from experts and constructing what they thought would be ideal beaver bunkhouse.

But the sisters had other ideas and set about building their own lodge immediately after their release, preferring to show the humans how it's done!

As daylight faded, we took up our positions in the freezing cold, armed with an infra-red camera.

We didn't have to wait long before we heard rustling sounds in the reeds surrounding the lake. It was really exciting as we could tell they were close and could hear them swimming towards us.

At that point, the clouds parted revealing a full moon above us. In the moonlight I spotted a head in the water, with the trail across the lake as the beaver headed for the bank.

We didn't actually see them out of the water and eventually the cold got too much for us, so we headed indoors.

Then again, after being hunted to extinction, you can't blame the beavers for not being in too much of a hurry to get reacquainted with humans.

BBC News: Beavers return to Ceredigion

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