Along the footpath that leads to the Hatchmere nature reserve, there are signs of management everywhere. Plastic tree guards wrapped around saplings, a corrugated metal dam blocking a brook, three bat boxes pinned to a Scots pine. Beneath my feet, where the rich, black soil oozes with the overflow of feeder streams, logs have been buried for stability before the path finally transforms into a boardwalk. From this elevation, you get a good view of the latest construction project: a robust fence, angled to protect what’s inside.
On the other side of the fence live some effective subcontractors, a pair of beavers brought in to manage the environment with their traditional tools of tooth and claw. They were reintroduced to Cheshire three months ago, and have had a wet welcome, thanks to the rainiest winter in 21 years. The county claims to have more ponds than any other in England, and a wealth of watery habitats, so it’s hoped the beavers will feel right at home.
I heard that the beavers patrol their perimeter after dark, so I plan a dusk visit. In the creation of the compound, some trees have been cleared from the edges for security. They now lie in piles, conveniently providing the beavers with food and fodder. But in the fading light I struggle to recognise much from the tantalising videos released by the Cheshire Wildlife Trust, which manages the project. Clips from within the enclosure show slick trails made by beaver tummies and tails, branches gnawed to expose the white inner bark, a lodge freshly burrowed under brambles and covered with twigs, and possibly the beginnings of their first canal to link two ponds. These workers certainly haven’t been slouching through the wet weather,; hard graft is going on out of public view.
I strain my senses for some evidence, and I can just hear the water trickle through the ditch between the boardwalk and the beaver fence, now accompanied by a blackbird in melodious voice. I stay long enough to hear nature’s shift change: mallards blast their calls as they commute overhead and a male tawny owl begins to woo. Following the beavers will remain a virtual experience for a little longer at least.
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