Beaver rewilding in a Citroen Ami: yes, really!

When Citroen said it was supporting a scheme to rewild beavers in West London wetlands, we were eager to gnaw how it would work

West London’s foxes and squirrels are about to have a new wild neighbour, in the form of that most industrious of semi-aquatic mammals, the beaver.

Thanks to a three-year project undertaken by an organisation called Citizen Zoo and supported by Citroen, this is just one initiative throughout the UK to return endangered, or in this case regionally extinct, animals to habitats they once called home.

Keen to get in the spirit of things, we arrived on site on the day of release in Citroen’s city-friendly Ami, which, despite the camouflage livery, appeared to invite more attention than a supercar on fire as we travelled from our central London starting point. Although it’s limited to 28mph, the Ami wasn’t exactly challenged on the journey down to our rendezvous point. More importantly, its low-carbon footprint and unthreatening nature ensured we were unlikely to startle any environmentalists.

This specific rewilding project in the capital has been in the planning stages for more than three years, with comprehensive environmental and biological assessments, and in-depth communication with the community around Ealing’s Paradise Fields, the location of the beaver’s proposed wetland habitat.

We spoke to Citizen Zoo’s non-executive director, Elliot Newton, and he reiterated the importance of community to the project, saying: “What is so apparent is that any successful conservation project needs to have the community embedded at the start, and you need to make sure you work with the community. If you don’t do that you’re going to get nowhere.”

Citroen’s contribution to the project was in lending an all-electric Berlingo van to the organisation. This doesn’t just help out with the logistics of beaver transport, but also sits more comfortably with Citizen Zoo’s sustainable mantra than a typical diesel-powered van.

Elliot continued: “Having Citroen’s support with the electric Berlingo makes our mission so much easier. It’s been a huge help and the team are so appreciative of a cleaner way to get stuck into this project.”

Greg Taylor, Citroen’s UK managing director, said: “For us, it’s what the brand is about; being simple, friendly and authentic in a way that people can engage with and immediately feel comfortable with. This isn’t the sort of project you’d imagine companies such as sister brand Alfa Romeo could engage with, so we wanted to help to give a platform for initiatives like this.”

Once through the reserve’s set of temporary gates, to keep the beavers secure, it was amazing just how quickly London’s hectic morning traffic seemed to subside. After a small amount of fuss, not least due to the presence of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the beavers were released and took to the water, utterly unfazed by the media scrums on either side of the reedy marsh.

In the case of the Ealing rewilding project, the Citizen Zoo team will monitor the family group for five years to build a case for a wider reintroduction across the UK.

Eurasian beavers have been considered extinct in the British Isles for more than 500 years, but back in 2009 the Scottish Government began a trial reintroduction of the species into the Knapdale Forest. The scheme has been widely considered to be a great success in Scotland, and this has led to the species also being reintroduced across north western Europe, easily adapting to wild habitats and those in more heavily populated areas. The hope is that a beaver population will encourage further biodiversity within the marshes, while also helping the community to engage with conservation.

After the release of the beavers, Elliot Newton said: “The word ‘conservation’ can be so interlinked with doom and gloom, but the term rewilding fires up people to understand that we have the power to rewild the future, and communities can be the centre of this.” And this is just one project being undertaken by the Citizen Zoo, with other initiatives including a reintroduction of the marsh grasshopper to East Anglia and water voles to the Hogsmill River in Kingston upon Thames.

For now, Citroen’s electric Berlingo will play sidekick to this wonderful initiative, unless Citizen Zoo gets involved in the reintroduction of bison to the Kent countryside, in which case it might need a bigger van.

Click here for our review of the Citroen Ami Buggy....

Senior staff writer

Senior staff writer at Auto Express, Jordan joined the team after six years at evo magazine where he specialised in news and reviews of cars at the high performance end of the car market. 

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