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River Journey

Bevis Watts’ debut wildlife memoir tells the story of how wild beavers were found on the River Avon
Bevis Watts

In his funny and frank debut wildlife memoir, CEO of Triodos Bank UK Bevis Watts shares how he discovered a family of wild beavers thriving on the River Avon near Bath.

The endangered species has been reintroduced across the UK in conservation trials since the early 2000s, but Watts’s discovery of three generations of beavers in the wild suggests that the once-extinct species may once more be breeding, flourishing and living freely along the Bristol River Avon.

From ethical bank to riverbank

In River Journey, Watts documents how a month’s sabbatical from steering Triodos Bank UK through the pandemic and post-Brexit red tape turned into a summer-long Swallows and Amazons-style adventure, searching for signs of beavers along parts of a river only accessible from the water.

Beginning in the wettest May on record, Watts set out on dawn pilgrimages along the river, gathering evidence such as teeth marks and paw prints, finding their burrow, planting remote cameras and eventually having close encounters with the beavers themselves.

‘I hung on the water in silence, the kayak motionless in the calm by the left-hand riverbank, looking at the large mass of fallen willow ahead. All was silent and still. Then I saw a ripple from behind the tree and realised I could hear gnawing. It is hard to describe the sound – a bit like a rasp chaffing down wood or short bursts of fingernails rubbed hard against a wooden door – but it was magical.’

BEVIS WATTS
River Journey

As he gathers evidence of the beavers through sightings, photos and videos, Watts also pulls back the lens on the river at large, sharing with readers not only beavers but otters, the first mayfly of the season, metre-long pike and roe deer, as swallows, kingfishers and barn owls swoop overhead.

Beavers and Britain’s landscape

River Journey reveals itself as not simply a book about beavers, but about the British landscape and what we must do to protect it.

Watts was inspired to write the memoir to raise funds for beaver conservation, and all proceeds from the book’s sales will be donated to Avon Wildlife Trust and Beaver Trust.

‘We hope to see beavers accepted back in the countryside like any other native wild species, particularly as they have a role to play in nature’s recovery and British wildlife resilience in the climate emergency. With more and more living in the wild, it is interesting to read this encounter and enjoy the sense of joy in nature connection it conveys.

‘We are talking about a highly mobile species and beavers will disperse through catchments over time, so we now need to give them space to operate and support this species’ recovery with a national beaver policy.’

EVA BISHOP
Communications director at Beaver Trust

A UK beaver boom?

Beavers are a keystone species; they are known for the wetlands they create, which can decrease flood impact by 60%, act as carbon sinks, develop diverse ecosystems by both thinning trees and allowing space for other plants to grow and provide homes to more than 2,000 species of invertebrates.

Ponds made by beavers have been found to contain double the number of unique species contained within other wetlands.

Baby beavers, known as ‘kits’, typically emerge for the first time in May and as more wild populations expand, Britain could be in for a mini ‘beaver boom’.

Watts has continued to monitor the River Avon’s now-iconic beaver family, this spring capturing on camera the first kit emerging from the lodge – evidence that the mother has now had young for at least the past three years.

The new footage shows her extending the family home as well as grooming and feeding as she takes a break from suckling her young, and her yearlings at play – last year’s kits are growing up.

‘We’re delighted to have wild beavers thriving and breeding in our patch. Like Bevis, I’ve seen the kits playing first hand from a canoe and it’s an amazing experience to be able to see these charismatic creatures on our waterways. Beavers are ‘nature’s engineers’ – they offer an unparalleled natural boost to our ecosystems, allowing a great diversity of wildlife to flourish and they can play a key role in responding to the ecological emergency.

‘There appear to have been multiple generations of beavers here before they were discovered, which shows they’ve been happily co-existing with humans for some time – years after their original extinction, it’s fantastic to have them back.’

IAN BARRETT
Chief executive at Avon Wildlife Trust

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