After an absence of 400 years, beavers have returned toDorset. Dorset Wildlife Trust’sMarketing and Communications Officer,Alex Hennessy explains why they matter and why this is great newsfor the county.
When we think of natural solutions to the ecological and climate crises, beavers(Castor fiber)are a‘keystone species’with huge potential to help nature cope and rebuild. They have a unique set of skills, helpingshape our landscape for the better. They and their skills were sadly lost in Britainwhen they were hunted to extinction herefour centuries ago. In the past few years,severalbeaver re-introduction projects have started across Britain and now, for the first time since the16thcentury, beavers are back in Dorset.
Dorset Wildlife Trust welcomed two beavers, an adult male and female, into a specially prepared enclosure in west Dorsetin early February 2021.But what is it about beavers that makes them such a valuableaddition to Dorset’s landscape? Beavers can be described as ‘ecosystem engineers’, whose presence can bring a number of benefitsfor other wildlife andhumans. One of the best-known beaver activities is damming –collecting wood to forma barrier in a riverorstream tocreate a deep pool where they feel safe. Their dams also have benefits beyond beaversecurity, ‘filtering’outsedimentsand debris so that waterdownstream from the dam iscleaner.
Resident fish and humans alike benefit fromdamscleaningriverwater, while increased wood debris in streams allows freshwater invertebrates to thrive, which then provide food for fish.Beaver dams also have the potential to reduce flooding by slowing the flow of water during storm events,so that areas downstream are less likely to flood.The Dorset beavers,now settling into their new home,were relocated from Scotland’s wild populationunder licence from NatureScot, while the licence for their introduction to the site in Dorset was granted by Natural England.Baseline monitoring before the beavers’ arrival was carried out by Dorset Wildlife Trust andproject partners University of Exeter and Wessex Water. This included measuring the water levelsand quality at the site, as well asrecording the species already present, and their numbers. University of Exeter’s Professor of Earth Surface Processes, Richard Brazier said: “This will contribute to a growing body of knowledge and understanding across Great Britain of the impact beavers have on landscapes.
Beavers have been present on the planet for 40 million years or so, so they’re a highly adapted species and know how to manage water resources. We could really learn a lot from them.”Regular monitoring and scientific investigation into how the beavers are changing their surroundings will help us to do just that –learn from one of nature’s great engineering species, right here in Dorset. To find out more about Dorset’sbeavers and the plan for the future of the project, visit http://www.dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/BeaverProject.