I must say I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when I read that the re-introduced European beaver population was to be added to the list of protected species in Scotland
As a result of persecution, the European beaver went extinct in Britain around 300 years ago. As a result of their persecution and extinction I call such species ‘ghosts in the landscape‘. In 2009 a small trial re-introduction programme was undertaken in Argyll. The population has expanded from the original 3 family groups. There have been calls from some landowners to eradicate the beavers as there were concerns of the damage they might cause. Today however the Scottish Government has announced that the European Beaver will become a protected species and therefore will be allowed to spread and will not be eradicated. The full story can be read here.
European beavers are often described as a ‘keystone’ species i.e. one that manipulates the habitat it lives in and as a result creates new and varied habitats for other species as well as providing important ‘ecosystem services’ for people as a by product.
This is an area where European beavers have been active in Latvia in Eastern Europe (I took this photo in the early 2000s when I visited the area) – it is clear that lots of interesting wetland habitats have been created and that the area also acts a flood storage reservoir in times of high water levels.
European beavers have also been re-introduced in Devon in a fenced enclosure, and this population has been the subject of considerable conservation work by the Devon Wildlife Trust and has been intensively studied by a team of scientists from Exeter University.
That research team led by Professor Richard Brazier has just published a paper entitled ‘Eurasian beaver activity increases water storage, attenuates flow and mitigates diffuse pollution from intensively-managed grasslands‘ You can download and read the full paper here.
The paper’s summary states
- Beaver activity has resulted in major changes to ecosystem structure at the site.
- Beaver activity increased water storage within site and attenuated flow.
- Reduced sediment, Nitrogen and Phosphate
- Dissolved organic carbon levels rose (but it is not known if this is problematic as flow rates are significantly lower – my italics).
- Important implications for nature based solutions to catchment management issues.
In light of all the current discussions around ‘natural flood management’ solutions (such as those at Holnicote – see here) it is thought that beavers in certain locations may play a useful role in reducing flooding by ‘slowing the flow’.
In addition there is another unofficially re-introduced population of European beaver in Devon on the River Otter which the Government has allowed to stay for the next 5 years to determine their impact on the environment and local people. The Devon Wildlife Trust are campaigning to keep this population, so that this ‘ghost in the landscape’ can remain and flourish and also play an important part in reducing flood risk on adjacent land and villages.
You can watch this DWT video with Chris Packham which tells you more about their work and the campaign
The question, of course is what will happen now in England? My own view is that I believe that European beavers should be allowed to recolonise England and in so doing will play a useful role in providing new habitats for wildlife whilst also playing a vital role in reducing flood risk. I very much doubt they will cause landowners and farmers any problems.