Greetings, fellow nature enthusiasts, my name is Ben Stockwell and I am the Senior Urban Rewilding Officer at Citizen Zoo. I’m thrilled to take you through the incredible Ealing Beaver Project, a collaborative effort between Ealing Wildlife Group, Citizen Zoo, Friends of Horsenden Hill and Ealing Council that is reintroducing beavers to the urban landscape, specifically the enchanting Paradise Fields in Ealing.
Introducing Citizen Zoo: Forging a Path in Urban Rewilding
We are an organisation committed to urban rewilding through community-led species reintroductions and habitat restoration projects. We aim to showcase how people and nature can coexist, rekindling the relationship between humans and the natural world with the ultimate goal of Rewilding our Future. Our projects to date include Water Vole and Grasshopper reintroduction projects, as well as the rewilding of Kingston’s largest nature reserve, Tolworth Court Farm Fields.
Citizen Zoo and the Ealing Beaver Project
In 2021, we established the London Beaver Working Group with the help of the Beaver Trust (BT) to unite stakeholders across the city, learn from practitioners, and discuss potential scenarios for Beavers returning to London:
Beavers natural re-colonisation of the Capital’s waterways
We know there are free-living Beavers across the country which are expanding fast, and wild populations are as close to London as Kent. So the possibility of Beavers’ natural recolonising London’s waterways is not out of the question. By bringing together different stakeholders, we started the conversation around a strategy for this scenario and how to prepare for it effectively.
A pro-active reintroduction of Beavers to the Capital
At Citizen Zoo, we actively promote well-considered species reintroductions and are keen to progress this for Beavers in London. Having identified potential sites, we were keen to hear from other organisations that own or manage other potentially viable sites. A key part of this is to assess both the ecological and political landscapes of each site
Our organisation is dedicated to rewilding and we strongly believe that a proactive reintroduction project is the best way to prepare for the eventual natural recolonisation of London. To achieve this goal, we partnered with BT and their team of specialists to conduct 10 site visits between 2021-2022.
Our First Trip to Paradise Fields
During our visits, we worked with Sean, the Founder of Ealing Wildlife Group and a member of the Working Group who suggested Paradise Fields as a potential site. Despite being the second to last on our list, it quickly became a favourite of BT’s Beaver expert, Dr. Roisin Campbell-Palmer. Together with Ealing Wildlife Group, we commissioned BT to conduct a feasibility study to assess the site’s suitability for Beavers. Sean then used this to apply for our licence to release from Natural England. At this point, the project was well underway!
After considerable effort, we secured our licence in early 2023. This, combined with seed funding from Ealing Council and the Mayor of London meant that the dream of the Ealing Beaver Project was becoming a reality.
We have four objectives for the project:
1. Restoring Nature’s Balance
The project’s foremost goal is to reintroduce Beavers to an urban setting after more than four centuries. This restoration is driven by the intrinsic value these creatures bring to our ecosystems.
2. Urban Coexistence and Management
The project aims to demonstrate how Beavers can thrive and be managed effectively in an urban context. Additionally, the team will closely monitor the Beavers’ flood mitigation effects within an urban river catchment, highlighting their positive influence on urban environments.
3. Habitat Creation and Enhancement
Beavers are nature’s architects, and their presence can lead to the creation of ecologically diverse habitats. The project aims to harness their natural abilities to revitalise the landscape and foster habitats for various species, including water voles, which are currently considered locally extinct.
4. Community Engagement and Scalability
The Ealing Beaver Project seeks to showcase how people in urban areas can coexist harmoniously with these charismatic animals. By setting an example in Ealing, the project aims to pave the way for similar efforts across London.
Over the past few months, our dedicated team has been hard at work, engaging with the local community to prepare the site for fence installation. This has entailed clearing trees and shrubs along the perimeter to facilitate vehicle and machinery access. With these preparations well underway, we were excited to welcome fencing contractors to the site this summer.
I have had the privilege of contributing to multiple aspects of the project, including the initial site visit, assistance with the licence application, fundraising, and project delivery. Recently, my colleague Digby and I delivered a training presentation on how volunteers can conduct camera trapping surveys on-site, which will enable us to build baseline data on species and monitor the Beavers after their release.
A Glance Towards the Future: Release and Public Engagement
Our sights are set on the autumn of this year when we aim to release a pair or family of Beavers into their newfound home at Paradise Fields. Following their release, a brief period of site closure will provide the Beavers with the time they need to settle and acclimate to their surroundings. Subsequently, we’ll open the site to the public, offering an immersive experience within this transformed Beaver landscape.
In closing, the Ealing Beaver Project is a fantastic example of our partners’ commitment to rejuvenating urban spaces through rewilding. It’s a testament to the remarkable potential of nature’s return to our cities and the positive impact it has on both ecosystems and the human spirit. Join us on this transformative journey, and let’s witness the beauty of coexistence between urban life and the wild world that surrounds us.
Ben Stockwell is Senior Urban Rewilding Officer at Citizen Zoo