Their deaths a tragic loss to us all. You can blame Metrolinx for disappearing our woodland in Essex, but blame also the person who put seed into the mud. The beavers are beloved creatures. Decades of urban development have taken their toll, but now, for the first time, conservationists are losing the battle. It’s simply wrong to kill them.
Early on Monday morning, I stood watching 10 beavers splashing and digging along the Surrey Side of Beaver Creek in London’s Reservoir Hill park. I’ve been watching them for over a decade, and it was fun – or fun-destroying depending on how much water you were soaking in for the day. I was talking to a handful of school children who all knew what to expect from the beavers and weren’t afraid to get close, or get wet themselves. The beavers didn’t seem bothered. They were playful.
The beavers never had a chance. Shortly after we left the preserve, Transport for London confirmed that Metrolinx, the Toronto-based, mega-transit service, had turned on the taps to drain the ponds. Metrolinx, whose responsibility it is to maintain London’s public transport infrastructure, has in the past removed beavers as pests from adjacent gardens, and we have always had to assume that, despite local, pro-beaver press and community support, beavers weren’t exactly part of the Metrolinx landscaping team’s design brief. TfL said that Metrolinx had run out of money and the beavers had to go.
The beavers’ death has been a terrible trauma for many people in the local community. The news came just before the area was due to open as a popular summer destination for schoolchildren. Guardian writers Allan Jenkins and Natasha Walter called for the beavers to be saved – it was just a matter of time before they got trapped and lost to the North Sea, like so many green urchins before them. Some environmentalists even argued that Metrolinx should get rid of its existing beavers and bring in Siberian ones. Boris Johnson’s Transport for London and Mayor Sadiq Khan have been supportive, but could they both have done more to help?
The beavers had been in hibernation at their breeding grounds during the mild winter and may have been startled by the hosing down they’d received from Metrolinx and TfL. Even though they had to clean out their nests, they were seemingly unable to adapt to a low-volume water supply and had died before they could undertake their normal breeding cycle. Metrolinx said their next step was to “assess the viability of having beavers in the area in future years”.
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Here’s a thought: could Metrolinx set up a water source in the reserve so that beavers could be introduced to the area? Beavers will thrive there in a pool that’s smaller than their native habitat. There will be a simpler way to encourage a new colony to emerge.
Metrolinx could have a significant impact on London’s landscape. Let’s have a public consultation about this. Beavers are a welcome addition to London. We all love them. We wish they were here.
• Jasmine Hui lives in south-east London