Beavers on River Otter in Devon could stay free
Beavers living on the River Otter in Devon could be allowed to remain in the wild if free of disease.
The government had intended to capture six beavers, test for disease and re-home them in captivity.
It is unclear where the beavers came from, but campaigners say they should be allowed to stay.
The government has now indicated that the beavers could be tested near the river and released if disease-free.
In October, environmental charity Friends of the Earth, launched a legal challenge over the government's claim that the beavers were non-native, could be diseased, and should be removed.
It is believed the group, including three juveniles born this year, are the only wild beavers in England.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: "Our priority has been to ensure humane treatment for the beavers while safeguarding human health, so we'll be testing the beavers close to the River Otter which will be better for their welfare than moving them elsewhere.
"We have a licence to capture the beavers, which we need to do to test them humanely for the disease EM (Echinococcus multilocularis) which has the potential to be very harmful to human health should it become established in the UK."
She said that the government agency Natural England was "expected to make a decision soon" on an application by Devon Wildlife Trust for the beavers to be released if clear of the disease.
FoE campaigner Alasdair Cameron said: "These are positive steps in the right direction, but until this issue is resolved, we will continue to make the case for these beavers to remain free."
A wild population of more than 150 animals has established itself on the River Tay in Perthshire, in the east of Scotland, while a smaller official trial reintroduction project has been taking place in west Scotland over the past few years.