The unofficial return of the European beaver (Castor fiber) in Flanders (Belgium)
After a long period of absence, beavers (Castor fiber) reappeared in Flanders in the spring of 2000, first in the province of Vlaams-Brabant and in 2002 also in Limburg. The beavers originate from the unofficially reintroduced Walloon population. With a view to a future reintroduction project to restock this not yet reproducing Flemish beaver population, a feasibility study was conducted at the request of AMINAL Nature Division (Ministry of the Flemish Government). This study concluded that the basins of the rivers Schelde and Dijle could carry a viable beaver population of at least 40 families that were all expected to stay in the same area and cause no problems in the wide vicinity. Even before the Flemish government had decided whether or not to proceed with the preparation of an official reintroduction, 20 Bavarian beavers of unknown age and sex were released on 11 April 2003 along the rivers Dijle and Laan. This happened unofficially, without any scientific follow-up and without preparing or informing the local population or other interest groups. Scarcely two months later at least two beavers had already crossed the city of Leuven. Beavers are now permanently present along the rivers Dijle and Laan south of Leuven. Some traces have also been found on the IJse. Complaints are coming in about damage to private as well as to public property and an adaptation of rat control methods is required. Since in the densely populated Flanders many human-beaver conflicts can be expected, the pros and cons of beaver presence in Flanders should be weighed up carefully, taking all interest groups into account.