The Audi A4 allroad quattro in Devon

Beaver Business

After an absence of four centuries, beavers are again living wild in the UK. We drive down to Devon in an Audi A4 allroad quattro to catch a glimpse of these elusive water-dwellers

The Audi A4 allroad quattro

A rodent revolution is taking place on the River Otter in Devon, but it’s got nothing to do with the animal this waterway was named after. Instead, beavers are under the spotlight. These furry water-loving beasts are living wild in the UK for the first time in nearly 400 years and, according to experts, could offer a wide range of benefits to the British countryside, including reduced flooding.

‘The first beaver was sighted here back in 2013 and since then they have thrived,’ explains Stephen Hussey, communications lead at the Devon Wildlife Trust. ‘Now there are more than 26 healthy beavers living on this 25-mile stretch of river, divided into six family groups.’ Stephen is taking us on a tour of their habitat, through the light woodland that covers the side of the river near the sleepy village of Otterton. However, the beavers remain rather elusive to the casual spotter – especially in winter, as they are mostly nocturnal creatures. They are also quite wary of humans, and with good cause. ‘Beavers were hunted to extinction in the UK,’ says Stephen. ‘The problem was they were relatively easy to catch, had valuable furs and tasty meat. Plus they had special glands that were used in rural remedies as they worked as a natural analgesic – basically animal-based aspirin.’

The Audi A4 allroad quattro River Walk

The A4 allroad quattro interior

The A4 allroad quattro

To maximise our chances of catching a glimpse of the animals, the Audi A4 allroad quattro in which we’ve driven here is equipped with Audi’s new universal traffic recorder, which allows car owners to keep an eye on everything that is happening around their car while it’s parked. Wide-view cameras mounted inside the front and rear windscreens will automatically start recording if any movement is detected by the parking sensors. If a beaver emerges while we’re away, the recorder should capture it.

Leaving the car parked on the banks of the river, Stephen leads us upstream and directs our attention to subtle signs of beavers at work. ‘That small ditch was dug by beavers to divert the water into a smaller pool, and over there you can see a little dam constructed to slow the general flow of water. But if you want a foolproof sign, this is it,’ he says kneeling down and gesturing to the nibbled stub of a tree trunk. ‘This was cut down by a beaver – you can see the distinctive teeth marks,’ he adds. ‘Beavers are vegetarian and like to feed in deep water. That’s why they shape their environment with ditches and dams.’

The Audi A4 allroad quattro River Walk

The A4 allroad quattro

The A4 allroad quattro

Unfortunately, we don’t spot any, and neither does the car, so we drop in on Derek Gow, a nearby farmer who is also one of the UK’s foremost beaver breeders. On his land, Derek rears the rodents, which are imported from Germany, and sells them to conservation projects all over the UK. ‘Farmers are now discovering the benefit of having beavers on their land to help mitigate against flooding issues,’ he explains. ‘Thanks to their love of deep water they create complications and dams that help the land retain the water.’

In a large pen to the back of his farm, Derek introduces us to a large male beaver, who trots out of his lodge to greet us as we enter. Sleekly, the cocker spaniel-sized animal dives into the water hole he has dug nearby and effortlessly glides across the muddy surface, propelling himself with his large flat tail and observing us with beady black eyes.

After a few laps the beaver gets out and shakes the water off his brown fur, before retreating casually back into his home. Up close, this majestic creature is quite a sight to behold – and perhaps one that will become more commonplace as reintroduction projects get up and running across the country.

Words by John Silcox. Photographs by Alexander Rhind.

Enquire about the Universal Traffic Recorder at your nearest Audi Centre