Beaver

Beaver ©Nick Upton

(C) David Parkyn

©David Parkyn

Beaver eating

Beaver ©David Parkyn

Beaver swimming

Beaver ©David Parkyn

Beaver

Scientific name: Castor fiber
Our largest rodent, the European beaver has a flat tail and webbed feet, and is well-suited to a semi-aquatic lifestyle. Once hunted to extinction in the UK, recent reintroductions have been very successful.

Species information

Statistics

Length: 70-100cm
Tail: 30-40cm
Weight: 18-30kg
Average lifespan: 10-15 years

Conservation status

Beavers are being re-introduced into different parts of Great Britain after an absence of about 400 years.

When to see

Active January to December but easiest to see in daylight between May and September.

About

The European beaver is a ‘keystone species’, with an amazing ability to alter its surroundings. Where it doesn’t have access to deep water, it can build dams that can transform landscapes. It fells and coppices riverside trees (especially willow) for food and for building dams and lodges. In late spring and summer, it eats mainly aquatic plants, grasses, ferns and shrubs, but at other times, woody species form the major part of its diet. Beavers live in family groups with an average of about five individuals, comprising adults, kits and yearlings. Females produce a single litter of one to six kits per year (average about 3). Beavers are semi-aquatic, mostly active at dawn and dusk, and do not hibernate.

How to identify

As large as a Labrador dog, but with shorter legs, the European beaver is robust and heavily built. Two distinctive features are a broad, flat tail, covered with scales, and webbed feet. It has small eyes and ears, and light brown fur.

Distribution

Small numbers reintroduced to locations in England, Wales and Scotland from mainland Europe.

Did you know?

European beavers make dams so that they can move about and feed in safety. They also like the entrance to their burrow to be submerged, so where they don’t have deep water, they can create it. In larger rivers and lakes, they don’t need to build dams. The work they do, coppicing trees and building dams, creates wetland habitats that benefit an enormous number of other species from water voles to amphibians, dragonflies to birds. Beavers also have a third, transparent eyelid (called a nictitating membrane) that protects their eyes as they swim underwater.

How people can help

You can help by supporting beaver reintroduction trials being run by The Wildlife Trusts. Visit the websites of the Scottish Beaver Trial, Devon Wildlife Trust's Beaver Project and the Welsh Beaver Project to find out more.