Bringing Back the Beaver by Derek Gow

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

It is thought that the last beaver in the UK died in the early 1500s. These large mammals were popular for their fur and for castoreum, a secretion of its scent gland. As we do with a lot of these large creatures, we hunted them to extinction. They were even technically a fish according to catholic decree so they could be eaten on a Friday. But if you go far enough back you will find people who revered them, the beaver can be traced in all manner of place names should you know where to look.

For me, it is common sense that an animal that once used to be here and was an integral part of our ecosystems should be re-introduced, but there are others who do not want to see them on rivers and wetlands. Anglers say that they will eat the fish and their dams will stop the migration of salmon and trout. Farmers claim that they are diseased and landowners want to see a pristine landscape devoid of life. It is all nonsense, of course, the ponds they create actually help the fish, they are very rarely diseased, and while they do change the landscape, helps all sorts of other wildlife and also helps us as their dams slow floodwaters down enough to stop the build-up of larger floods further downstream. It is for the better.

In Bringing Back the Beaver (No sniggering at the back), Gow tells of his often frustrating story is, at last, starting to pay dividends. He has been an advocate for wildlife and conservation ever since a trip to the Durrell foundation in Jersey. He has been responsible for increasing numbers of water voles, storks and as well as beavers is also helping with a scheme for wildcats. It has been a long struggle at times. Yes, he is a bit of a maverick, but I would much rather have people like him deciding our wildlife policy against some anonymous civil servant who wants to delay and defy these sorts of decisions.

One thing that you can say about Derek Gow is that he is livid about the obstacles placed in the way to stop the reintroduction of beavers, one of our native animals. He has been involved in many schemes that move from the feasibility stage to local consultation and before you know it, the vested interests of landowners and others work their magic in the clubs and bars and the scheme is kicked into touch.

It did make me laugh how one civil servant came and made all the usual noises about it couldn’t possibly happen and then accidentally left his briefcase there. If seemed foolish not to have a quick shufti at the contents and then he realises that they legally had no jurisdiction, it was all bluff. Something that would prove useful when Jeremy Paxton wanted to introduce beavers on his property. When challenged by DEFRA, he said that he knew that their legal team had advised that they had no authority to do what they were doing and they didn’t have a leg to stand on. The beavers stayed.

Gow is not a natural author, his writing is crisp, almost to the point of terseness, and matter of fact. He does not suffer fools, either. Thankfully there is humour in the prose too; the stories that he tells of his escapades trying to reintroduce these aquatic creatures are hilarious. The main reason behind writing this book is to reach a wider audience and to talk about the passion he has for these large rodents. He wants to see our land and riverscapes returned to the way they used to look when the beaver was a native of this country. We need more people like Derek Gow.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    I’m really interested in reading this: he is such a maverick and I love to think about him popping up here there and everywhere, releasing creatures as he goes!

    • Paul

      It is well worth reading. You can sense his frustration as there is yet another feasibility study. His call for all the organisations that are interested in wildlife in all its form to work together is quite interesting. I think that there is too much rivalry at the moment and this is something that others take advantage of

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