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Beavers build back better – but their future is not secure

The Wildlife Trusts have pioneered the reintroduction of beavers to Britain ever since Kent Wildlife Trust released these industrious creatures into a fenced area of fenland in 2001. Then followed the Scottish Beaver Trial, which saw the first ever reintroduction of a native extinct mammal to the British Isles since they were hunted to extinction over 400 years ago. Later, in 2015, the River Otter Beaver Trial, based in East Devon and led by Devon Wildlife Trust, enabled beavers to roam wild again in England.

Beavers are back, but their future is not secure. The Wildlife Trusts are calling for a Beaver Strategy for England which would provide a roadmap for a future where:

  • there are more beavers in many more catchments
  • beaver populations are healthy and thriving
  • management frameworks are agreed which provide support for farmers, landowners and river users
  • beaver impacts and their population health are scientifically monitored.

The Wildlife Trusts and our partners believe that beavers should be an integral part of a green recovery. The impressive and ever-growing body of independent scientific evidence reveals the vast array of benefits that beavers can bring to society by working with nature. These include:

  • Improved water quality: beaver dams slow and filter water, causing sediment and nutrients to be deposited in ponds. This improves the quality of water flowing from sites where beavers are present.
  • Land holds more water: the dams, ponds and channels created by beavers increase capacity of land to store water and produce a more consistent outflow below their dams. This can result in less water being released during heavy rainfall (reducing flooding downstream) and more water availability during times of drought.
  • Carbon is captured: beaver wetlands capture carbon, locked up in dams, and boggy vegetation and wet woodlands which are restored.
  • More wildlife: beavers create diverse wetland habitats that can provide a home for a wide range of wildlife, especially aquatic invertebrates which act as a food source for other species.
  • People engaged with wildlife: people are fascinated by beavers. The presence of beavers in an area provides an opportunity for people to engage with wildlife, as well as creating a market for nature tourism.

Beavers create thriving ecosystems helping us to put nature firmly back on the road to recovery. And they do all this for free.

By working alongside farmers, landowners, river users and local communities we have learnt that management is essential if we are to maximise the benefits that beavers provide. We now have a range of carefully honed techniques which can help us do this, which help avoid or minimise any localised negative impacts which might occur. We have gained widespread support for our recommended approaches in Scotland and Devon.

We are also calling on government to provide farmers and landowners with financial support to make space for water and beavers on their land. This will reward those who give up some of their land to benefit communities downstream, which will benefit from lower flood or drought risk and higher water quality.

Craig Bennett, CEO of The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“Beavers are proving just what a valuable force they can be in helping to solve the nature and climate crises. Their extraordinary ability to naturalise landscapes, improving them for other wildlife, enhancing water quality and controlling water flow makes them a vital component of a modern approach to land management. People love beavers and their presence has really boosted tourism in the places where they’ve been reintroduced.

“Now it is time to look forward and set out an ambitious vision for the return of these animals. But this must be done properly and thoughtfully, with the right support systems in place. That’s why it is so important that the government publishes its beaver strategy soon.”

Harry Barton, CEO of Devon Wildlife Trust, says:

“This is an incredibly exciting time for re-establishing beavers and bringing them back where they belong. The work we’ve done on the river Otter over the past five years, with a team of international experts led by the University of Exeter, shows just how many benefits these fascinating animals can bring, and how we can manage any problems that might arise. It’s now time to seize the moment and take this exciting work forward so that beavers can deliver their many benefits on a larger scale. We look forward to a swift and positive response from the government.”

Professor Richard Brazier, University of Exeter, chair of the Science and Evidence Forum that published the River Otter Beaver Trial Report, says:

“Our detailed research programmes have concluded that the positive impacts of beavers outweighed the negatives. A summary of the quantifiable cost and benefits of beaver reintroduction in the River Otter in Devon demonstrates that the ecosystem services and social benefits accrued are greater than the financial costs incurred.”

The Wildlife Trusts are gathering public support for an England beaver strategy – play your part here: wtru.st/act-for-beavers

Header image: (c) Steve Gardner.

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