It is a quiet time of year for the beavers. They do not actually hibernate and in mild weather are active every night. In the autumn they collected plenty of willows and buried them in the bottom of their ponds so that they can access them even if the surface is sealed with ice. They’ve also collected oak, hazel and alder branches to repair their dams with. The family down at Skinny Dipping now have at least seven ponds, creating habitat for other species. When I checked there last week I flushed five woodcock and a fox in the pen.
It’s important to be able to manage beavers and I saw Michael Gove last week at a reception in Westminster. I impressed on him that farmers and land-owners need legislation that will enable them to do beaver management without onerous licences. We have just completed trapping and checking our beavers and now our specialist beaver traps are heading down to Devon to be used in trapping and monitoring the Devon Wildlife Trust beavers on the River Otter.
Genetics are another potential issue for British beavers and recently 12 wild echinococcus-free beavers have been imported from Bavaria by Derek Gow. These will complete their quarantine in May and we hope to take delivery of two unrelated pairs. The Ricketts Mill enclosure is now predator proof and it is interesting to see how the vole numbers are increasing without mammalian predation. We are working to increase biomass of willow in the pen ready for the new beavers.
We have decided to plant up a block of 16 acres into indigenous broadleaf woodland. We are in the final stages of the woodland grant process and plan to have it all planted by the end of March. It is a steep north facing bank that is beginning to scrub up and will be far more productive in trees. With ash off the agenda, most of the trees will be oak and downy birch. Our tree nursery is coming along well and we have a lot of oaks in the pipeline. We’ve also planted a few Wych Elms on the farm to compensate for the loss of the elms with Dutch Elm disease in the 1970s and 1980s. Meanwhile Steve has been busy upgrading over a kilometre of farm tracks and Frank has been busy with the timber. We have taken down a number of dangerous leaning trees and sadly several old ash trees dying of Ash Dieback. Now we are inundated with timber for the sawmill and logs for firewood. We will haul it all out when the ground dries out.
Tomorrow Friday 22nd December we are on BBC One Wales with Kate Humble ‘Off the Beaten Track’. Kate comes looking for our beavers on a typically wet day in Wales.