What an inspired 80th birthday present it seemed for Boris Johnson’s father Stanley – a family of beavers for the river on his Exmoor estate. Boris Johnson’s siblings paid for all the paperwork. Derek Gow (rewilding conservationist) visited Stanley, Boris, and Rachel to discuss their project. Derek states that Boris is passionately interested in beavers. 

Stanley said that he was friendly, but the law currently prohibits him from releasing beavers in the wild. Legally – although this is under review – beavers can only be released into fenced-off areas, but there are wild populations in Scotland and Devon.

British waters once populated with beavers. We hunted them until they became extinct for their fur, scent glands and meat, in the latter part of 17th-century. Derek, now a Devon farmer and conservationist has written a book called Bringing Back The Beaver about his long-running quest to bring back beavers in our rivers.

Derek Gow, 56, a Devon farmer turned conservationist, has chronicled his decades-long quest to re-establish beavers (pictured) on our rivers in his book Bringing Back The Beaver

Derek Gow, 56 years old, is a Devon farmer who has become a conservationist. He chronicles his long-running quest to reestablish beavers in our rivers (pictured), in his book “Bringing Back the Beaver”.

Many of us have fond childhood memories of wild beavers. We remember their friendly chatty beavers from Narnia, with their delicious suppers filled with fried trout and sticky mammallade rolls. Nonsense, Derek says – beavers are vegetarian. 

“CS Lewis did not have a solid base of biological reality.” They are captivating. Derek says that they are compassionate creatures. 

“They love their baby. Kits spend their first year dependent on their parents or older siblings. They prevent their ability to swim in dangerous water and, if necessary, transport them back to the lodge. 

They snuggle them and groom them. They provide protection , a loving home and tolerate their tantrums

He is passionate about beavers, you can see it. Their presence is a major contributor to the ecosystem’s health. They are sharp-tongued and can gnaw at riverbank trees leaving behind stumps the size of sharpened pencils. 

But these coppiced trees continue to grow, creating a wetland habitat where other creatures flourish – otters and water voles, kingfishers and cormorants. The complex dams slow down flood waters downstream, reducing the impact of climate change.

Derek visited Stanley Johnson (pictured) who was gifted a family of beavers for the river on his Exmoor estate

Derek visited Stanley Johnson (pictured) who was gifted a family of beavers for the river on his Exmoor estate

Derek, 56 years of age, was raised in the Scottish Borders. He is a hero to Gerald Durrell. A course at Durrell’s Jersey zoo on endangered species transformed Derek’s life. In the middle of the 1990s, he was in Poland when he first encountered European black beavers. He wanted to obtain breeding pairs and release them back in his homeland. 

Derek received the mother from her keeper. “She settled in my lap with her large leather tail beneath. I have never forgotten her. I was touched by her kindness.

Derek brought the first beaver he imported, and she was not so sweet. Derek went to Heathrow’s quarantine facility to see her. Keen to check she was OK, Derek crawled into the crate – and met his nemesis.

He recalls that she let out an audible growl, and then jumped at him with her exposed teeth. Grumpy was grabbing Derek’s boot. Derek used a brush to get her out, but Grumpy took just one bite of the broomhead, and reduced it to a stump. 

Derek fell in a seal pool, a facility that also handled seals. The beaver joined him. She decided that a relaxing bath would be more attractive after the disadvantage was hers.

Derek has since raised wildcats, white-storks, and stoats on his farm of 150 acres at Coombeshead near Dartmoor. But beavers are still his favorite. There are three families that thrive there now.

Derek’s next book is about Britain’s history of the wolf. The Big Bad Wolf Must Be Returned! Maybe he could use a different campaign slogan.  

Bringing Back The Beaver by Derek Gow (hardback, Chelsea Green, £20; paperback, published on 13 January, £10.99). Go to rewilding.coombeshead.co.uk