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Re-wilding the Beaver in Britain

The Bangor University Zoological Society hosted an insightful speaker from the Welsh Beaver Project of the Welsh Wildlife Trusts. Adrian Jones provided an educational presentation introducing the ‘Ecological Engineer’ Castor fiber.

“Once native to this land, beavers have been extinct in the UK for nearly 500 years. Bringing them back is a huge task and one that may materialise in the near future, thanks to the efforts of a dedicated group of people.”

Adrian Jones

Adrian began by exploring the reason of the Beaver’s extinction in the 16th century, mainly because of hunting for their fur, meat and ‘castoreum‘, a secretion used in perfumes, food and medicine.

The decline of Beavers in the UK has resulted in further habitat decline, as the beaver is known as a ‘keystone species‘ because of its significant positive influence on its environment. Therefore their reintroduction should be endorsed through well-planned and licensed releases for future re-wilding projects.

The highlight of the talk was the detailed explanation of the benefits that the re-introduction could bring. Five positive influences to the environment and economy were outlined.

  1. Flood Mitigation: Beaver dams significantly reduce the lag time of peak rainfall events, reducing the flood risk of riparian areas. An investment in this would prove beneficial for insurance and utility sectors, as well as protect against the consequences of climate change.
  2. Water Purity: As well as the Beaver Dams filter large particulates and pollutants, the creation of ‘Beaver meadows‘ in the riparian zones adjacent to Beaver ponds also fixes nitrogen, purifying the freshwater ecosystem from agricultural fertiliser run-off.
  3. Water Retention: Damming raises the water table levels, providing an increased resource for water during period of drought, this is also in the public interest against climate change.
  4. Reducing Siltation: Sedimentation of lakes due to upland soil erosion can be a threat to freshwater resources.
  5. Wetland Creation: A fundamentally costly process to artificially replicate, the Beaver Dams form the natural wetland habitats which have been lost from Britain’s riparian zones.
Beaver Dams naturally purify water quality and reduce siltation.

Adrian provided compelling figures and an emotive narrative for the reintroduction of Beavers, which is a topical and current subject during the future of the environment in response to climate change. The reintroduction of the Beaver is an influential factor in the wider conversation about re-wilding, encompassing the impacts that living closer to nature could have on society.

Beaver reintroduction projects can stimulate the local economy due to eco-tourism, their charismatic influence on folklore and naturalists makes the beaver no only a keystone species, but an incentive for further re-wilding.

Beavers attract eco-tourism and are popular with local residents.

Beaver reintroduction would demand conversation and compromise with the agricultural sector, which works the most closely with the landscape that their reintroduction would impact. Mitigation for this conflict includes financial offsetting the loss of land affected by the beaver ponds, as well as the 20m riparian zone of forest which will be unpredictably flooded and felled due to beaver behaviour.

During the presentation, I enjoyed sketching the subject, interested in Biological Illustration as a mode of communicating the causes of conservation. I would be interested in being involved in any re-wilding projects following graduation, especially focused on reconnecting fragmented habitats and mitigating current extinctions of British wildlife through the Wildlife Trusts’ Living Landscapes strategy.

Published by thegardeningzoologist

Emily Madeline Davies is the project manager of the only Student - Led Garden in Bangor 'The Healing Garden'. She works with the project leaders to deliver engaging volunteer experiences for students to maintain the garden. Her background is in wildlife gardening and zoology, by volunteering at the North Wales Wildlife Trust workshops and completing a comprehensive trainee-ship as a Conservation Ranger in 2019. She is currently in her third and final year studying Zoology with Animal Behaviour at University, favouring the conservation and practical management modules. Her current honours project is to investigate the effect of wind direction on the energetic expenses of bird flight, by using the controlled flights of homing pigeons - which hopes to be useful for the conservation of migrating birds in the face of climatic adversity. Her gardening experience includes completing a Horticultural Technician internship at Treborth Botanical Garden, whilst also being part of the Student's for Treborth Action Group committee. Her personal accomplishments include securing external funding for the Healing Garden from Kew Garden's 'GrowWild' initiative, in partnership with the brain injury charity ''Headway', to develop a sensory spiral flower border for therapy, recovery and mindfulness - free to use for the brain injury and local community. She also had considerable input designing the garden to accommodate and benefit the local habitats and wildlife using her experience working with the North Wales Wildlife Trust. With a knack for gardening and illustration, in her free time she paints in gouache for her natural history portfolio. Looking forward, Emily aims to graduate into a local job in habitat management, connectivity of urban green spaces (gardens) or native conservation strategy.

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