Landowners to be paid to create 'nature corridors' alongside rivers as beaver habitat

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Beavers will help 'garden' the rewilded land - Jason Parry-Wilson/Mammal Soc/Bav Media 
Beavers will help 'garden' the rewilded land - Jason Parry-Wilson/Mammal Soc/Bav Media

Landowners could be paid to stop tending to riverbanks running through their property under Government plans to help rewild beavers across Britain.

The move would prevent farmers from farming all the way up to the river's edge, to help encourage trees and shrubs to grow as part of a “nature recovery network” spanning the length of the country.

The radical plan is the brainchild of Defra’s new Nature Champion, Ben Goldsmith, who has been discussing it with his minister brother Lord Goldsmith for years, The Sunday Telegraph understands.

The pair have been lobbying Prime Minister Boris Johnson to make the plan part of the new post-Brexit Environments Land Management Strategy, and he is understood to think it is a “great idea”. He will be asking farmers to do this as part of a raft of woodland creation policies.

It is hoped the scrubby landscape created around natural watercourses will also help endangered species, including butterflies and wading birds.

The Government has been working with the Beaver Trust to discuss how beavers could help “garden” the trees, and ensure they do not become overgrown.

Forestry Minister Lord Goldsmith said: “Encouraging trees to grow along England’s watercourses will offer numerous benefits for water quality, flood management, biodiversity and climate resilience – helping rivers to adapt to the changing climate

“That is why, through our upcoming action plan on trees and woodlands which will set out new steps to meet our commitments to tackle climate change and protect nature, we will be creating an ambitious new package of support for creating woodlands near rivers and waterways.”

Under the scheme, landowners will be given "significant" subsidies for allowing the space next to waterways to remain wild, senior government sources told The Telegraph.

There are also plans being mooted to make this corridor scheme a condition of getting Environmental Land Management subsidies - which many farms would not be profitable without.

Beavers are understood to be part of the strategy, with this habitat being created with the aim of releasing the aquatic mammals into many river catchments to help with biodiversity.

A recent government review found that beavers increase the amount of fish and invertebrates in river catchments and reduce flooding. The timing of beaver releases will be outlined in the upcoming National Beaver Strategy.

It is hoped these new woodlands will also improve conditions for aquatic life, and tackle climate change, as they provide shade and reduce summer water temperature for fish helping rivers adapt to climate change. It could also help slow the flow of and temporarily store water as part of Natural Flood Management, and prevent excessive riverbank erosion and collapse.

Ben Goldsmith said: “The Lawton Review famously called for habitats that are bigger, better and more joined up. Britain’s streams, rivers and wetlands can be a ready made Nature Recovery Network, if we only allow it. The ground alongside watercourses is not particularly useful for agriculture - it can be a muddy mess. Creating a network of riparian woodland buffers will have little impact on food production but an enormously positive impact in reducing flooding and drought, giving us cleaner water and creating nature corridors for wildlife.”

The government has been working with some of the country’s biggest environment organisations to implement this plan, including the National Trust, Rivers Trust and Woodland Trust. They will be building these corridors on their land, as well as encouraging neighbouring landowners to do the same.

James Wallace, the CEO of the Beaver Trust explained: “These four charities are keen to work with the government and we believe an alliance of organisations should be working together. We need industry, government and NGOS to collaborate to restore our rivers. We have taken that initiative and are coming together to create riparian corridors.

"As far as beavers are concerned, we think it's really really important that the government through their ELMS scheme encourages people to make space for beavers as this takes away conflict between beavers and farmland, where you set away ploughing and chemicals as far from the river as possible and pay farmers to do that. This means that beavers are not competing with farmers for the same land.

"This is the Nature Recovery Network - the premise is we have an interconnected continuous network along our catchment in all our rivers.”

The NGOs recommend that groups of farmers work together to connect their river environments to create one long network for animals, working with water companies and nature charities.

Mr Wallace added: “Imagine what we could do by working together across sectors, boundaries and interests along England's 240,000km of waterways to help rivers breathe life back into the land and the excitement we could create at COP26 to demonstrate leadership and action.”