Beavers – the Roadford project- fabulous

Just had one of those brilliant evenings that you don’t forget – been to the Enclosed Beaver Project north of Roadford Reservoir. As an ecologist and conservationist I was blown away – I had heard and read what beavers do to the landscape and indeed I have seen it with my own eyes in Latvia but now I have seen it in Devon! Not only did we see the work of the beavers, their impact and their benefits we actually saw a beaver too! My first in the UK.  A big thanks to John Morgan, the site owner and Peter Burgess, Director of Development, Policy and Research at the Devon Wildlife Trust for showing us around – feel privileged – this project will prove ground breaking.

At the top of the 3ha site – ie where the water comes in – apparently before the project this was an even aged block of tall willow woodland – it isn’t now!

This may look like a man-made culvert – it isn’t – this is a channel created by beavers as they drag vegetation around the site to make their dams and lodges – wow wow wow. Due to the recent dry weather the site is very dry – this channel will be full of water again when the rains come again.

The front paw print of a beaver.

A wetland pool created by the beavers – this wasn’t here before they arrived – it is very dry at the moment due to the drought but you can see how rich this is for wetland wildlife compared to an even aged dense willow copse.

The Lodge i.e. the beavers’ home – they live in tunnels and under trees where the marsh thistle is growing. You can see even in this photo their footprint are everywhere in the mud.

Then there is the research …. courtesy of Prof Richard Brazier at Exeter University. This is the clincher – this is why we need beavers back in the countryside – they will make a real difference to us and our lives. This picture and graph shows how beaver can reduce downstream flooding. The blue line on the graph i.e. the spike (above beaver) shows an enormous rise in water levels following a rain episode – the red line (below beaver) shows what has happened to that spike once the rain has flowed through the area managed by the beavers – they have removed the spike and massively reduced the chance of a flash flood downstream.

And here are the benefits beavers generate regarding water quality: a reduction of sediment in the river (and eventually in Roadford Reservoir) and a reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus (i.e. fertilisers we dont want in our drinking water). Dissolved organic carbon does increase but this shows that although more carbon is released than from farmland (which is depleted of carbon in the soil = bad), wetland are very carbon rich (= good) and therefore release some to the water. Carbon rich soils help us fight climate change but do lead to browner water which then has to be treated. Overall though the beavers have done us a massive favour here regarding water quality.

Tremendous Devon Wildlife Trust summary report download here.

In my view this project and the research associated with it will see the beaver back in the English countryside as a free living animal within 10 years – it is long overdue, they will save us as a society a fortune in ‘hard’ flood defence works and they will give us huge pleasure when we see them for ourselves doing  their thing.

I really hope I am right – if you agree with me join the Devon Wildlife Trust – they have got us to this point and they want to take it forwards. They are also leading on the River Otter beaver project see here.

7 thoughts on “Beavers – the Roadford project- fabulous

  1. Thanks Adrian, I’ve been following this story with interest having walked a lot of Dartmoor in the past. As long as they’re managed beavers sound a perfect solution – is there a way they can be harvested to keep their numbers in some balance? This might allay farmers’ fears and if couched in economic terms may be more acceptable to the agricultural sector.

    • The Scottish model looks like a good way forwards – on one hand beavers are protected but if they become a problem to farming they can be controlled. Indeed the population on the Otter in Devon is managed as well – if a dam causes flooding on agricultural land a culvert is inserted into it which then reduces the river level and stops the problem.

  2. My my Adrian how interesting as all I’ve heard regarding these animals has been from farmers creating because they block waterways & cause farm land to flood during heavy rainfalls this puts a whole new line of thought,thankyou.Clive.

    • A useful interesting article Philip – it’s a pity that the state sector is so siloed in their thinking and sees anything new as a threat “At first, DEFRA were concerned that the animals might harbour disease and wanted to remove them”. At least local democracy seems to have prevailed.

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