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Beavers Brought Back to Help Prevent Flooding in UK

Tori Scott celebrates as the National Trust re-introduces a keystone rodent to parts of the UK to improve human and wildlife living environments.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro

The National Trust has started a project in which a pair of beavers were released onto the Holnicote Estate in Exmoor for the first time in 400 years. Reintroducing the rodents is said to play a key role in improving habitats, reducing the effects of climate change, managing landscapes, restoring streams and reducing flooding.

By introducing beavers to the Estate back in January of 2020, the National Trust are contributing to making the rivers in the area more resilient to climate change and extreme weather, as well as reducing erosion. Not only are these conditions desperately improving in the area, but the beavers’ presence is also creating a better environment for the animals surrounding the rivers.

"Rivers are the lifeblood of our landscapes but many of them – and the wider landscapes that feed into them – are in desperate need of repair." – Hilary McGrady, Director General at the National Trust

Only 17% of England’s rivers are in good health, and this affects the plants, insects, animals and birds that depend on them. It is important that beavers were reintroduced to the United Kingdom because evidence is showing that the keystone species could help improve the state of UK waterways.

Keystone Rodents

In the 16th Century, beavers became extinct in the United Kingdom due to being hunted for their meat, furry water-resistant pelts and castoreum, which they secrete and was subsequently used in food, homeopathic medicine, and perfume.

According to Eva Bishop of the Beaver Trust, with their rudder-shaped tails, webbed feet and goggle-like second eyelids, the rodents are most comfortable living in environments with lots of water. The dams, which they create from vegetation in order to live in, slow water flow, relieving flooding problems while also pooling water during droughts, engineering landscapes and increasing biodiversity.

Near Minehead, the beavers have been caught gnawing on trees and collecting vegetation to build their dam at Holnicote Estate. After being relocated to the estate from wild populations on the River Tay catchment in Scotland, they have been capable of creating instant wetland and a substantial dam made from branches and vegetation in just nine months.

"As we face into the effects of climate change and more frequent extreme weather events, natural interventions like this need to be part of the solution" – Ben Eardley, National Trust Project Manager

Riverlands Programme

By 2025, the objective of the Riverlands project, which involves the introduction of beaver populations to multiple locations, is set to restore 25,000 hectares of wild-life rich habitats. The biodiversity kickstarted by the beavers’ dams is hoped to create more opportunities for amphibians, insects, bats and birds to flourish through improved water quality.

To begin this project, the beavers were reintroduced to large rivers, including the Derwent in Cumbria, to the narrow streams of Porlock Vale in Somerset. The River in Conway Valley, North Wales has been affected by extreme flooding and the waters are no longer rich with fish. By reintroducing the semi-aquatic rodents to this river, the National Trust is hoping to restore its declining wildlife populations and protect the community from devastating flooding.

Concerns about the Beavers’ Impact

A huge project like this one brings with it many concerns from communities. Farmers are particularly worried about the effect the reintroduction will have on their production of food and farming abilities as they may destroy their crops and surrounding trees, and create localised flooding by gnawing them.

Anglers are worried about the disruption to the fish in the waters that the beavers live in, as their dams could affect the streams for the North Atlantic Salmon and sea trout, species which are already struggling population-wise in the UK, thus limiting their ability to reach their breeding grounds.

Nevertheless, the effects of climate change on our country’s ecosystems have been marked and alarming. More must be done to ameliorate and reverse these effects, and the more natural the method the better.

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