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Return of the Lostledan: Time for the Beaver to come home to Cornwall

Posted: Tuesday 18th April 2017 by CornwallBeaverProject

In the first of a new blog series in the lead-up to the start of the Cornwall Beaver Project, Peter Cooper discusses why now is the time to bring this charismatic animal back.

Go way back in time – shortly after William the conqueror arrived, per say – and take a walk along a Cornish river. Whether it’s the Hayle, the Camel or the Fowey, sooner or later you’re likely to come across strange goings-on. Among the rushes appear huge pools held back by walls of cut willow and alder, around them the buzz of dragonflies and the cacophony of songbirds.

Squat yourself down as the sun sets, and if you can bear the mosquitoes you’ll soon meet the architect responsible. A slight tinkle of rippling water may be heard as a huge, earthy-brown rodent glides over the surface of one of the pools. It climbs clumsily out into the rushes, dragging its paddle-like tail through the mud, and leaning on its back legs starts reaching out for edible stems with tiny forearms, gnawing away its supper like a plump man in a luxurious fur coat.

However, this luxurious fur coat would’ve been just one own-goal towards its extinction in Cornwall and Britain as a whole, and the very beaver you’d be watching would be on thin ice. Around now, beaver pelts would’ve been worth over six times that of similar furs such as otter, testifying to their increasing scarcity. The castoreum in their anal glands, a chemical derived from a willow-heavy diet, was also in high demand as a pain-killer and hastened their nationwide extinction at least a few hundred years later. The Lostledan – as it names translates to in Cornish – was gone.

As the generations went by, the cultural memory of this animal was soon faded from our minds and landscapes, although clues as to their former presence remained in place names. While no examples seem to appear in Cornwall, locations such as Barberland in Wiltshire and Beverley in Yorkshire roughly translate as ‘beaver stream’.

So for many people, the practice of bringing back beavers to the British countryside has come as something of a surprise, with many not even realising such a charismatic animal once swum in our rivers. The recent successes of beaver trials in Scotland and Devon, have revealed that the opportunity to restore this animal back to Cornwall would be about far more than just filling a gap in our wildlife count. Beaver re-introduction cancan engineer habitat and increase local species diversity on a scale many conservation managers could only dream of. Just ask the amphibians, spawning fish or dragonflies to name a few groups that flourish in the presence of beaver-created pools and canals. Recent research is suggesting that beavers can play a vital role in alleviating downstream flooding and ensuring better water quality.

These are all things we very much hope to see in the Cornwall Beaver Project. But we also want to showcase these amazing animals and the benefits they bring to people across the community. We want to show the communities here in Cornwall, especially those who make their living from the countryside, how we can live together with these animals even in 21st century Britain.

Over the course of the next few months, I’ll be blogging into the run-up of the official return of beavers to Cornwall, keeping you posted with stories about our project and our motivation for it. 400 years later, ‘Lostledan’ will be coming home. And it’s about time.

Peter Cooper is the blogs and social media manager for the Cornwall Beaver Project. Visit his website at petecooperwildlife.com or follow him on Twitter at @PeteMRCooper.

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Comments

    I totally agree that their return is long overdue. Lets do everything possible to make their impacts on the Nankilly Water useful and understood.

    Tuesday 18th April 2017
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I totally agree that their return is long overdue. Lets do everything possible to make their impacts on the Nankilly Water useful and understood.

Tuesday 18th April 2017
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By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.