I HAD been aware for some time now that beavers were slowly colonising the River Devon.

With each passing year I was stumbling upon increasing signs of their presence, in particular small willows and alders felled by the bankside, leaving behind distinct, conically gnawed tree stumps.

Despite this, I had decided not to write about them, for numbers were low and I didn’t want to publicise their presence in case they were disturbed or persecuted.

But things have changed in recent times – beavers are now legally protected in Scotland, and it was apparent to me that more and more local people were aware of the Devon beavers, which had also been commented upon in social media and even been mentioned in the national press.

As such, I posted a video on Facebook taken a few weeks ago by my trail-camera of a River Devon beaver in the process of felling a willow, intrigued to see what the response would be (a still from the video is shown here).

I was thrilled that it turned out to universally positive: people were delighted that beavers were present on their local river, which can only be good news for their future prospects as it means our community will respect and protect them, thus giving the current very small population the chance to grow.

Beavers bring many environmental benefits; the dams and canals created by their activities result in the development of pools and backwaters where invertebrate life can flourish, providing food and shelter for fish and other creatures, thus enhancing biodiversity.

Felled willows are in effect coppiced, often springing back into new life, and encouraging the growth of wildflowers beneath because of the increased light reaching the ground.

Research by Stirling University found that beavers have an important impact on the variety of plant and animal life in their locality, with the number of species found in beaver-built ponds being 50 per cent higher than in other wetlands in the same region.

It is unlikely that beavers would ever build dams across the main part of the Devon because the river is prone to spates, and such constructions would simply be swept away.

Indeed, I’ve seen no sign of any dam construction at all by our local beavers, and if they were to do so, then most likely they would be concentrated in quiet backwaters to create larger pools.

it is not just for ecological reasons we should welcome beavers, there are moral ones, too.

Hunted to extinction and absent from our rivers for several centuries, beavers are native animals and an integral part of our environment.

It is their right to be here, and they also have a right for us to protect them.

There are, however, always different perceptions, and I understand the concern of some farmers, the people who put food on our plates, about potential problems they may cause, such as blocking field drainage systems.

But it is important to look at the bigger picture, and there is nothing more important than the health of our environment and the contribution that beavers can make in enhancing it.

Beavers are the most incredible creatures and their arrival is something we should all celebrate.