Country diary: I walk through beaver country, hoping against hope

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Otterford, Somerset: I glimpse a swirl of water in the river and there it is – a real-life beaver, full of wild and wonderful purpose

It has been a day of sharp downpours and sudden bursts of sun. Before I set out, I consult a blog called Flip flops or Wellies. Excellent question. The last time I walked around Otterford it was neither, but I don’t quite feel up to barefoot forest bathing today, so wellies it is.

I will be setting foot (or boot) in beaver country – or so I’ve been told. There’s no mention of them on the information board in the car park, and nothing on any map. If there are beavers here, they’re keeping it awfully quiet. There’s no chance of my seeing any, I know that much. With only about 550 in the wild in the entire country, and most of those in Scotland, I’ll be lucky to see a … wait a minute. I spot a tree stump by the side of the lake shaped like the end of a pencil that’s been sharpened with a blade. Beaver teeth! It’s as thrilling as spotting the pugmarks of a leopard. I sink into the rich, black mud as I wade down to the water’s edge through a glade of bluebells. Tight fists of bracken stand tall, alert as meerkats. Another tree, distinctly gnawed: the exposed wood is bright orange-red, as though still bleeding.

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