Did you know that the River Otter is one of the only places in the UK with wild, free ranging beavers? At one time, beavers were pretty widespread across the UK, but around 500 years ago, they were hunted into extinction, with sightings being incredibly rare and any beavers spotted, being traced back to former pets or creatures that had escaped from captivity.

Beavers are incredibly important for natural eco systems, which is why Devon Wildlife Trust plans to see beavers returned to every main river in Devon. Over the last ten years, Devon Wildlife Trust has been leading beaver conservation projects across the county, with the reintroduced population along the River Otter one of the project’s successes, so let’s get to know Ottery’s resident beavers.

What you need to know

Beavers are truly fascinating creatures, you might know that they are rodents, but did you know these top facts about beavers?

  • They can hold their breath for up to 15 minutes underwater
  • Beavers have three pairs of eyelids – yes! The third pair are transparent and they use them when swimming under water, it’s like having built in goggles!
  • Though they have quite terrifying teeth, beavers are herbivores, that means they only eat vegetables, plants and tree bark. During breeding season, they are known to add grass and roots from aquatic plants to their diets too.
  • Like squirrels, beavers hide food so they have a stash to keep them going through the winter months.
  • Speaking of their teeth, they are naturally orange – this is because of there being lots of iron in the enamel, which makes their teeth strong enough to gnaw through wood.
  • Like other rodents, their teeth grow continuously throughout their life, they have to chew on wood daily to keep them trimmed.
  • The beavers at the River Otter have created significant ecological benefits since being reintroduced, including new wetland habitats and increases in the local fish population
  • They have also helped the human residents by slowing down the water flow with their dam building, which has helped save homes from flooding.
  • It isn’t just dams beavers build, they also build lodges that they live in! These lodges are often created on little islands with multiple underwater entrances and living spaces above the water line. They even insulate them!
  • Beavers can use their hands! They tend to hold their food in their front paws like humans do.
  • If you spy a beaver and its slapping its tail on the water, this means it feels under threat and is warning the other beavers.
  • Today beavers are around the size of a cat but in the Ice Age, they were around 2.5 meters long!
  • Baby beavers are called kits, much like baby rabbits. They are born with fur and their eyes open, they even already have teeth at birth!
  • Finally, our favourite fact about beavers, their bottoms smell of vanilla! That might not sound true, but it is! They have glands on their bottoms that smell sweet, like vanilla.

Where to find beavers

There are family groups of beavers living along the whole length of the River Otter. They are most active in the lower reaches of the river, which is why the Devon Wildlife Trust have come up with their own River Otter Beaver Trail, where you can follow plotted routes that bring you to their most populated habitats. You can find out more about this here. https://www.devonwildlifetrust.org/what-we-do/our-projects/river-otter-beaver-trial

You can also spot beavers around Otterton, particularly in the south of the village, follow the public footpaths along the river around Otterton or walk upstream towards Colaton Raleigh, where there are families too.

When is best to visit

Like most animals, beavers are most active at certain times of day and certain times of the year. The best time to see them are in early evening between May and September. You are most likely to spot them just as it is starting to get dark. If you are planning to visit and want to see if you can find any of Ottery’s wild residents, make sure that you have sensible shoes, a torch with you and wear sensible clothes to keep you warm. Take binoculars with you if you can – you won’t be able to get too close to them after all, and you never know, you might spot some of the birdlife or other creatures on your visit!

Going beaver watching

Heading out into the wild is a great thing to do while visiting Ottery St Mary. It’s an excellent way to get some fresh air and enjoy the natural world, especially if you’re taking a trip to see if you notice any beavers, as they are most active between May and September when the weather is generally warmer and brighter.

If you’re planning to head out and explore the riverside paths, here are some top tips to keep everyone safe:

  • Keep to all footpaths
  • Don’t enter the river at any point
  • Keep dogs on leads, or for the best chance of seeing wildlife, leave them at home. Beavers are generally tolerant of dogs, however during breeding seasons, they will hide from dogs and make sure to keep all dogs out of the water while on these paths.
  • Avoid disturbing any wildlife by keeping as quiet as possible
  • Respect the rights of other people using the footpaths and those fishing on the river

Why not combine your exploration of the River Otter with a stay in East Devon?  Find places to stay around Ottery St Mary below.