How beavers create habitats

Beavers are amazing eco-engineers who have an incredible impact on their surroundings. Mark Elliot from the Devon Wildlife Trust explains exactly how they help to create wetland habitats.

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Beaver cutting down a tree.

“The big politics of this is water,” says beaver expert and passionate conservationist Derek Gow.

What he means is that should beavers ever be reintroduced into England and Wales – as they have been to Scotland – it will be because of the potential benefits they bring to water management, not because they’re appealing animals with funny buck teeth.

As our video shows (below), beavers released into a trial 3ha site in North Devon have completely transformed their environment, turning a willow and birch woodland with a trickle of a stream running through it into a rich mosaic of pools, dams, canals and bogs.

And what this means is that it is holding masses of water within the site – water that might, in times of heavy rainfall, otherwise tumble downstream to flood someone’s living room.

As Professor Richard Brazier of Exeter University says, “If you replicate this [trial] at a catchment scale, you are completely changing the way your rivers work and you are storing more water.”

It remains to be seen whether this can provide the impetus for the return of the beaver to England, but it certainly seems like a good argument in its favour.

Find out how the proposed reintroduction of beavers to Britain could help address flooding, climate change and the loss of fragile ecosystems in the May 2014 issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine.

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