WILDLIFE chiefs in Hampshire are aiming to return beavers to the countryside after an absence of hundreds of years.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust is looking at reintroducing the animals on the Isle of Wight.

It is backing a national strategy after the river animals have been reintroduced in Scotland and Devon.

The trust says it would love to see beavers playing their part in creating a wilder future for our two counties. It is actively looking into introducing them to the Eastern Yar, at our Newchurch Moors nature reserve.

There is a growing body of independent scientific evidence showing the benefits that beavers can bring. These include:

• Improved water quality as beaver dams slow and filter water, causing sediment and nutrients to be deposited in ponds;

• Land holds more water reducing flooding downstream and more water availability during times of drought;

• Carbon is captured: Beaver wetlands capture carbon, locked up in dams, and boggy vegetation and wet woodlands which are restored;

• More wildlife: Beavers create diverse wetland habitats that can provide a home for a wide range of wildlife, especially aquatic invertebrates which act as a food source for other species;

• a boost for nature tourism.

The trust is calling on government to provide farmers and landowners with financial support to make space for water and beavers on their land. This will reward those who give up some of their land to benefit communities downstream, which will benefit from lower flood or drought risk and higher water quality.

Martin De Retuerto, director of projects and services at the Hampshire trust, said: “This is an incredibly exciting time for bringing beavers back where they belong. Having visited some of the fantastic projects being led by Wildlife trusts in other parts of the country, I have been inspired by the ability of these unassuming river rodents to breathe life back into barren, broken ecosystems. Working with the team of experts at the University of Exeter, we are now pushing forward our plans to bring beavers to the Isle of Wight, as a vital part of our vision for a wilder Wight. We look forward to a positive response from government to help us achieve this aim.”

Prof Richard Brazier, of Exeter University, said: “The habitat present on the Isle of Wight demonstrates great potential for the reintroduction of beavers, with very few obvious areas of conflict where beavers would be problematic. There is also significant scope for habitat enhancement using beavers, which would deliver a range of benefits or ecosystem services including flood reduction, water quality improvements, water storage and drought alleviation alongside the more obvious positive to all wildlife that thrives when water is brought back to our ecosystems.”

Farmers remain to be convinced. The NFU South East spokeswoman said: “We’d be interested to know where these European beaver might be released, and would prefer it to be an enclosed site - presumably the Trust hopes to release them in connection with a natural flood management /water quality project?

“Obviously as a farming organisation, our farmers and grower members would be concerned about possible damage to farmland and crops by beaver activity - where activity could generate more water accumulating on farmland we believe farmers should be compensated ie paid to store water on their land.

“We believe a balance must be struck between food production and care of the environment, we don’t believe that these kind of activities should result in a reduction in food production. If food production in the UK falls, then of course the UK would have to import from elsewhere in the world where the carbon footprint of food will likely be higher and standards lower than our own world-leading production standards.”