After four centuries of absence, beavers are making a comeback in the UK. For the first time ever, the UK government has given the greenlight for beavers to released to help manage flooding.
The task force of four beavers, two adults and two kits, will be let loose in a 6.5-hectare (16 acres) enclosure in the Forest of Dean, in western England. The hope is that their dam and ponds will help slow and retain water during heavy rain, and prevent flooding of the nearby village of Lydbrook.
“The beaver has a special place in English heritage and the Forest of Dean proposal is a fantastic opportunity to help bring this iconic species back to the countryside 400 years after it was driven to extinction,” said the UK’s environment secretary Michael Gove. “The community of Lydbrook has shown tremendous support for this proposal and the beavers are widely believed to be a welcome addition to local wildlife.”
Yes, beavers have been released officially in Scotland before, and an unofficial population of a couple of hundred that have apparently been doing their thing for years in secret was discovered in Tay and Earn, as well as a smaller unofficial release in England, but this marks the first time that the animals are set to be released in the UK specifically to manage flooding.
While some still maintain that the best way to prevent flooding in villages is to dredge the river channels to allow the water to pass through quicker, many others are instead realizing that this is exacerbating flooding, not alleviating it.
Hillsides that were once covered in trees are now barren, meaning that rain flows straight off them and gathers into the streams and rivers, heading straight for the towns and villages. The thinking now is that before the hills were stripped bare, the forests slowed and retained much of the water, preventing it from reaching the rivers in the first place, and when it did the water was further slowed down by fallen trees and branches, giving the water time to soak away into the bank and surrounding landscape.
The beavers – it is hoped – will help do this too, by slowing down and retaining the water as they construct dams, channels, and ponds. As these structures are porous, it means that the water flow is regulated to a much greater degree, easing flooding when it rains but also managing the water flow during droughts.
While it is true that they obviously fell trees, leading some to suggest that they may be contributing to the problem themselves, the trees the rodents favor such as willow and aspen actually benefit from the natural coppicing and regrow rapidly.
It is now thought that with this license granted, many other villages will apply for beavers to be released near their communities, too.