The future looks gloomy for the first wild group of beavers to be spotted in England for around 500 years after the government revealed it intended to trap the dam-building critters.
To the delight of animal lovers, video footage proved the existence of a family of beavers apparently thriving in the River Otter in Devon earlier this year.
But the government announced on Monday that it was planning to capture the animals and find a new home for them in a zoo or wildlife park.
In a written parliamentary answer, George Eustice, a minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said: "We intend to recapture and rehome the wild beavers in Devon and are currently working out plans for the best way to do so. All decisions will be made with the welfare of the beavers in mind. There are no plans to cull beavers."
The video footage emerged in February of three European beavers on the River Otter in east Devon.
They could be seen gnawing at the base of trees, grooming themselves and playing together.
Experts said the sighting was highly significant as it strongly suggested a small breeding population of beavers now existed outside captivity.
European beavers were once widespread in the UK but were hunted to extinction by the 16th century in England and Wales for their fur, medicinal value and meat.
A Defra spokesman said: "We intend to recapture and rehome these beavers and are currently working out plans for the best way to do so. All decisions will be made with the welfare of the beavers in mind.
"Depending on the source of the animals, they could be carrying a disease not currently present in the UK. In addition, beavers have not been an established part of our wildlife for the last 500 years. Our landscape and habitats have changed since then and we need to assess the impact they could have."
But some conservationists expressed anger that the government planned to capture the creatures. Some have even suggested the government has been pressured by anglers concerned the beavers could endanger fish stocks.
Devon wildlife consultant Derek Gow criticised the decision. He has argued that the wild beavers should be studied – and the views of local people taken in account – before a final decision was taken. "They have not listened to us," he said.
He said rather than harming the environment, the beavers could actually help it by clearing trees and creating habitats for other flora and fauna.