Page last updated at 09:20 GMT, Sunday, 25 May 2008 10:20 UK

Beaver campaign takes next step

Beaver (generic)
The beaver was last seen in Wales in the wild in the 12th Century

Wildlife experts from Wales are set to travel to Norway in a bid to further their plans to bring the beaver back to the Welsh countryside.

Plans to reintroduce the animal to the wild have been underway for the past five years.

But now officers from the country's six Wildlife Trusts plan to visit the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research to learn more about the process.

Beavers lived in Wales until the 12th Century but were hunted to extinction.

The European beaver (Castor fiber) was once widespread throughout the UK and was sought after for its highly-prized skin and the oil found in glands at the base of its tail, which was used as a medicine.

Scotland managed to hang onto its beavers - the last in the UK - until the 1600s and by the beginning of the 20th Century only a few colonies remained across Europe.

Beavers are the largest rodent native to Europe with adults weighing 18-20kg and body length of up to 1m
They are mainly nocturnal eating a very wide range of plants and tree bark - especially willow
The creatures usually live for seven or eight years but have been known to live for up to 25 years
They prefer burrows in river banks as their nesting place but will build lodges of piled logs when this is not possible
European beavers build fewer dams than their North American equivalents

Any reintroduction in Wales would require the approval of the Welsh Assembly Government and the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) before going ahead but the trusts are hopeful their plan will become a reality in the near future.

Successful reintroduction programmes have taken place in 24 countries over the last few decades with the UK the only place in Europe where they remain absent.

The Welsh conservationalists will meet one of the world's leading beaver experts, Dr Duncan Halley, in Norway on Monday to discuss their own plans to reunite the animal with Wales.

Their reintroduction plans, under the Welsh Beaver Assessment Initiative, have now reached the stage where the experts are surveying and selecting suitable sites across Wales for the beavers.

Project co-ordinator Adrian Lloyd Jones said: "Beavers play a fundamental role as a keystone species, restoring wetland ecosystems and helping to enrich river habitats for people and wildlife.

"It is crucial that the issues surrounding a beaver reintroduction are well understood by all parties and this forms a major part of the assessment initiative."

The initiative hopes to have completed its assessment work by 2009 and have beavers back roaming the Welsh countryside by 2010.

'Terrible misconception'

And fellow initiative member, Derek Moore OBE, who is also a trustee and former chief executive of the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales, said their return would be of great benefit to Wales.

"People have terrible misconceptions about beavers and a lot of people in the fishing industry say they don't want them here because they'll eat all their fish," he explained.

"But beavers are vegetarian and in fact they help fish by creating pools for them to thrive in.

"There are bound to be a lot of empty places across Wales where we could find them a home and they would help out a lot with local tourism with people filling up local hotels to come and watch them.

"It would be great if we could start to see them in the Welsh countryside within two or three years."

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