Beavers cut flooding and pollution and boost wildlife populations
Beavers have alleviated flooding, reduced pollution and boosted populations of fish, amphibians and other wildlife, according to a five-year study of wild-living animals in Devon.
The report, which will help the government decide whether to allow wild beavers to return to England after being hunted to extinction more than 400 years ago, concludes that the species has brought measurable benefits to wildlife and people.
The study, by a team of scientists overseen by Prof Richard Brazier of the University of Exeter, concludes that beavers’ quantifiable benefits on the River Otter, including eco-tourism and “ecosystem services” such as flood alleviation, outweigh costs such as the minor flooding of some farmland.
The beavers, which escaped from a captive population, were discovered in 2013 living wild on the river. When plans to exterminate the animals were greeted by a popular outcry, the government agreed to a scientific trial, with the funds entirely raised by Devon Wildlife Trust and its supporters.
The number of beavers on the Otter has risen from two breeding pairs in 2015 to at least eight pairs today as the herbivorous rodent has expanded along tributaries including the River Tale.
The beavers’ positive impact includes one family constructing six dams upstream of the flood-prone village of East Budleigh. The dams have slowed the flow of floodwater through the village, reducing “peak flows” during flood events.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has announced an extension of the Devon trial until September, when it will decide if the Devon beavers can remain.
If Defra backs the beavers, it is likely that a new licensing system will enable the release of free-living beavers in other river catchments – with the beaver officially recognised as a native species again.
Read more in the full Guardian website article.