Beavers at Gazen Salts Nature Reserve, Sandwich

Gazen Salt Nature Reserve’s Pete Findley tells CommunityAd about the Beaver population, their distinct habits, and what to look out for when you visit the Sandwich reserve.


European Beavers are a distinct species from their North American cousin which is famous for their dam constructions. Our Beavers build tunnelled dens and above-ground dens rather than dams and lodges across streams.

CommunityAd Exclusive - Beavers at Gazen Salts Nature Reserve, Sandwich

Tree chip showing teeth marks

Beavers are a large rodent with robust body, short neck and limbs, large, flattened, scale-covered tail and webbed hindfeet. It has large incisor teeth covered in orange enamel. In the winter they mainly eat tree cambium under the outer bark but in the spring they live on all kinds of vegetation such as Alexanders, nettles, rushes and even Ivy. They have evolved to live alongside trees and occasionally make clearings in woodland which allows light to get to the ground and allows ground flora to flourish thereby increasing the biodiversity. Willows are one of their favourites and once chewed through will sprout again as if pollarded. The branches that fall in the water provide habitat for fish and invertebrates.

They tend to use natural holes or burrow into the bank with an entrance below water level, leading to a nest chamber. A pair can have a linear territory of about 3km and it is likely that at Gazen, there is only a single breeding pair. This is supported by the discovery of their smelly scent marking mounds around the Reserve.

Small family groups usually consist of a monogamous adult pair, up to four kits and sometimes young of the previous year. The East Kent population is being studied by the Mammal Society, Beaver Trust, Kent Wildlife Trust and Ben Morris, the Environment Agency Beaver Technical Specialist. Ben visited Gazen Salts NR recently to talk to the 14 volunteers about our Beavers.

The wild, native, Kent population is second largest in Britain next to the Tay group in Scotland. 51 territories have been counted along the lower Stour Valley plus 19 further possible pairs which could yield a total number of adults, sub-adults and kits of over 500. Originally, they escaped from Ham Fen in 2002 and subsequently spread along the river Stour up to Canterbury where the two mills provide a barrier to further progress upriver. They have been recorded from Ashford in small numbers though the origins of these animals are unclear at present. They can survive in seawater for a few days while searching for new freshwater streams and rivers but long-term exposure to salt will harm them and their coat.

There is plenty of evidence to be seen at Gazen Salts NR – chewed trees, flattened pathways up banks and through bankside vegetation, grazed branches in the water, bitten vegetation with cuts at 45O , tunnels in the banks, temporary burrows or sleeping dens, footprints and, rarely, actual sightings. They are mainly nocturnal and are easily spooked – this will often make them slap their tail on the surface of the water as they dive to escape which can be a scary experience when you are not expecting it.

Beavers are now classified as a native species (it was once common in Britain before being hunted to extinction) and because of its restricted distribution is classified as Endangered and on the Red List. It is thought that the origins of the Beavers introduced here are from Norway, Poland (very dark coloured individuals) and Germany. It is thought that all three are present in the Kent population.


Pete Findley

Interested in more? Read our previous feature on Gazen Salts Nature Reserve here.

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