A FIRST FOR THE UK: New online tour gives public ‘virtual’ access to beavers for the first time

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© Mike Symes Devon Wildlife Trust

A virtual tour of the beaver closure on the Holnicote estate on Exmoor in Somerset, three years after the beavers were first introduced has been launched.

A first for the UK, the new tour can be accessed on the National Trust’s website and uses cutting edge technology to provide users with virtual access to the 2.7-acre enclosure where beavers were first released by the Trust in January 2020.

The footage was captured using professional, high resolution 360° video equipment, for the first tour of its kind in the UK. The immersive experience features trail camera footage of the beavers’ everyday lives, drone footage of the enclosure and wider estate with links to other National Trust projects and a ‘question and answer’ session with the charity’s beaver expert, Ben Eardley.

Other wildlife captured on the 360° video and trail cameras include kingfishers, stoat, roe deer and bull finch. The tour will add additional footage as the site develops capturing this dynamic changing waterscape and its wildlife as it moves through the seasons.

A beaver on the edge of a pond on the Holnicote estate, Somerset | © National Trust / Nick Upton

Ben Eardley Project Manager for the National Trust at Holnicote says: “Beavers are such fascinating mammals that we wanted to find a way of sharing their antics and to enable people to find out more about these shy species.

“Web users are just one click away from being able to explore beaver constructed dams, ponds, canals and wetlands and see and hear some of the wildlife the habitat supports.

“Although we would always want to encourage people to get outside to enjoy nature and to see it for themselves, beavers are elusive creatures and typically most active at dawn and dusk. We therefore hope this footage will appeal to active and armchair nature lovers alike and will enable more people to see the beavers in their natural environment and how their dams, ponds and channels have created space for water and wildlife.”

“Beavers are such fascinating mammals that we wanted to find a way of sharing their antics and to enable people to find out more about these shy species.”

The beavers were released three years ago with a key aim to help slow the flow of water through the landscape and reduce flooding, but to also help hold water in the landscape in times of drought – and to also improve river quality and biodiversity.

Ben continues: “Over the past three years they have built dams and created deep pools of water which offer shelter from predators and places to access and store food. This has in turn developed habitat that suits a host of wildlife such as amphibians, bats, mammals such as otter and birds such as kingfisher, dippers and waterfowl. And, it’s also turned the surrounding land into a mosaic of nature-rich rare habitat including wetland and standing deadwood.

“The beavers have also successfully bred and had three ‘kits’ in total – which is a sign of how they’ve settled in and really made this woodland their home.

“The beavers have constructed a large lodge in which they spend the day before venturing out at dusk to get busy feeding and constructing more wildlife rich wetland.

“The hot weather and drought last summer, is a reminder of the significant role beavers can play in engineering the landscape and the importance of wetlands. As we face into the effects of climate change and more frequent extreme weather events, natural interventions like this need to be part of the solution. When the rest of the estate was suffering very dry conditions with parched vegetation the beaver enclosure was a lush green oasis, providing opportunities for wildlife to feed and find water.”

Noel Sexton, Director of View It 360 ltd who created the tour comments, “We knew capturing these elusive creatures would be a challenge but filming in 360° gave us a greater chance of seeing them going about their activities as the view was not restricted to a single angle. It still took 24 hours of filming over three weeks to collect four minutes of beaver footage – but we are now really looking forward to people being able to enjoy exploring the site and finding out more about nature.”

There has been plenty of public interest in the beavers since they were introduced at Holnicote in January 2020 with the charity asking its social media followers to name the three kits that have been born since the introduction.

Football was the predominant theme with ‘Rashford’ chosen for the first kit born in 2021, coinciding with England reaching the final of the Euros and Russo and Toone chosen for the twin kits born this year following the Lionesses success in the women’s football world cup this summer.

Clips of the growing kits and their parents, Grylls and Yogi, all feature on the tour.

The beavers are one important part of the Trust’s habitat restoration work at Holnicote. Other work includes the first application in the UK of the innovative ‘Stage 0’ approach to river restoration, where a tributary of the River Aller has now been allowed to find its own course, creating a wetland habitat which has again attracted wildlife including peregrine falcons, grasshoppers, dragonflies, bees and wagtails.

Holnicote is one of the Trust’s Riverlands projects and is co-funded by the Interreg 2 Seas Co-Adapt programme, Frugi, Environment Agency, Green Recovery Challenge Fund 2 and the Somerset Rivers Authority.

The new tour can be accessed on the charity’s website and uses cutting edge technology to provide users with virtual access to the 2.7-acre enclosure where beavers were first released by the Trust in January 2020.

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