Beavers in the city of Lyon

Last year I went to Lyon in central France and although I didn’t see the beavers that now live there I did see the trees felled and their distinctive tooth marks. The signs of beaver activity were in a park by the River Rhone about 3km from the very centre of Lyon. Beavers were hunted for their fur throughout Europe and became extinct in most of France. However in the lower reaches of the Rhone south of the Lyon they survived and have been recolonising the river northwards.

The site is part of the larger Parc de la Feyssine, which was a reservoir for a century but is now a mixture of woodland and open ground, with a long shoreline on to the Rhone. One entrance is via a bridge through trees at canopy height. Some of the old conical caps of the water storage system remain. Quite a lot of the land is given over to planted poplars. The river is wide at this point.

The beavers are concentrated around L’Ile aux Castors (“Beaver Island”) just off the shore. I photographed a small willow which had been partially felled and had then split. The beaver’s distinctive ridged tooth marks are visible.

There is a lot of interest in reintroducing beavers in Britain as part of rewilding and for the way their dams slow the flow of rivers after sudden rainfall to avoid floods. In the last decade or so populations have “appeared” in Tayside and Devon, followed by planned releases in the west of Scotland and Cornwall. There is some opposition to beavers, as their tree felling and dams change the character of the riverbank, and can cause flooding in fields adjacent to the river. It may be that reforms to farm payments after we leave the EU common agricultural policy will be able to offset some of these local costs. What is clear is that in both Britain and France, once the beaver has a toe hold and is left to get on with it, it recolonises the rivers by itself and begins to change them back towards the way they were.

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