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  • Writer's pictureGranny Bonnet


When Granny lived at Surlingham beside the River Yare, there had been a big problem with coypu across the county's waterways and broads.

In case you are not familiar with coypu Myocaster coypus, let me tell you they are semi-aquatic animals, somewhat resembling a cross between an over-sized rat and a beaver and with a striking set of orange front teeth that never stop growing and have to be ground down by constant use.

These animals, native to South America, were brought over to Britain in the late 1920's to supplement the fur trade with their pelts known as nutria after the animals' other common name. Like mink similarly introduced, escapees into the wild soon began to breed and cause havoc. As a female coypu is adult at eight months and can have three broods a year of up to nine young, problems quickly grew.

Whereas the mink had, and still does have a devastating effect on ground-nesting birds and small mammals, coypu began to destroy riverbanks and wooden structures such as piles and footbridges with their penchant for burrowing and gnawing, occasionally adding to their nuisance by straying onto farmland and eating sugar beet. A potentially serious consequence was the breaching of defensive banks essential for protection of low- lying land in East Anglia.

The problem grew so serious and widespread that an eradication programme in Norfolk was set in place. Working from flat-bottomed rafts, traps were set at river margins and also across acres of marshes. Once caught, animals were swiftly dispatched by .22 short bullets delivered from a single shot PAV pistol by trappers who carried 250 rounds at a time. Carcasses were weighed, measured and recorded, enabling a complete behavioral record to be established.

Though the production of Nutria fur had stopped by 1940, Norfolk was left with a bill of £2.5 million to eradicate an alien species from Argentina that should never have been introduced in the first place. Decades later miraculously, the entire population had been despatched into the history books and no live sightings have been reported since 1989.

Granny personally has no problem with animal skins being put to good use as a side product of necessary food production and consumption. Better that than a hard-nosed attitude towards wearing leather garments and shoes: we should at least honour the lives of animals by using their product in full. Thankfully though the fur trade in England collapsed, as in Granny's eyes, breeding creatures purely for pelts is abhorrent.

It so happens that one of the dozen or so coypu trappers was a neighbour of ours in Surlingham and when not out shooting them was by contrast, a yoga teacher at an evening centre run by Hubby. Coincidentally, we later moved to Cringleford on the outskirts of Norwich whose pretty stretch of river had once been a stronghold of those strange destructive creatures that have now largely faded from memory.


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